Monday, July 20, 2015

Why Do You Write?

No. Stop. Wrong question. We all know why we write, even if we can’t explain it to anyone else.

The real question -- the tough question -- is Why Do You Choose to Publish?

Publishing -- whether you do it yourself or sign on with someone else -- is an enormous endeavor.

This is where I think many of us start to waffle with our answers. Sometimes we’ve never even stopped to consider what we really hope to achieve from publishing our writing.


Creative validation?



Change the world?

It Was All A BIG Misunderstanding?

And there are probably other reasons.

There is no wrong reason, by the way.  And there’s probably no one single reason. I suspect most of us decide to publish our creative outpourings out of mixed motives. And the reasons change as we go along. When I was eleven I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to be rich and live in a castle by the sea. Nice and simple! :-D

I no longer need to be rich. I just want to earn my living doing what I love and am good at. That’s one reason. I have others.

Money does figure into the decision to publish for most of us, and I think this is where a lot of the anxiety, frustration and dissatisfaction stems from. There’s such a dearth of any real information. We hear tales of fabulous success, especially through indie publishing, but according to one of the recent updates from the Author’s Guild, median earnings for a fulltime author are about 17K.

Now if you’re only bringing home 20K at your day job, going fulltime writing is an easy jump. Being able to work in your pajamas is well worth that hit to the bank account. But if you’re earning 70K…uh oh.

So the money thing. It’s real. It’s an obvious, tangible marker of success. It’s quantifiable. And we all need cold, hard cash to survive now that it's so damned difficult to find a rich, agreeable patron to sponsor us for the next twenty years.

But it’s probably the least important reason for most of us. I mean, if you’re smart enough to write a book and get it published, you’re probably smart enough to earn a decent living in other more secure and lucrative fields.

I don’t have any answers here. I’ve been seeing a lot of posts from writer friends feeling discouraged and/or frustrated. I see a lot of…sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this…

To which I think YES. Yes, that is exactly the question you should and need to ask yourself. Why are you doing this?

And while you're figuring that one out, ask yourself this:

Is what you want realistic and attainable?

Is the cost higher than the reward?

Is this even what you signed on for?

 No one can answer those questions for you. But this much I can tell you: what we want changes through the years. And that’s actually a good thing. The kid who wanted to be rich and live in a castle by the sea? I’m not that kid anymore. But the one constant in my life has been the words -- sharing the words is now part of who I am.

Be honest about what you want and what you need -- and pursue that. I guarantee you will be happier for it.


  1. Uh oh, realized I could ask myself that exact same list of questions regarding dancing Argentine Tango, and a number of other pursuits. : )

    But Josh, I am very, very happy that you have stuck with it all over time. I can't count how many times your writing has brightened my day.

    1. That's a great example though. So much time and practice and probably expense as well. But if it brings you the joy it seems to, I can't imagine a better way to use those resources.

  2. "Be honest about what you want and what you need..." I know many people who have died without having a clue about what they really wanted. Once you understand yourself, everything else follows naturally.

    1. Yes. I used to have a poster in my day job office. It showed a lighthouse shining over a stormy sea, and it read: If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, no light will be enough to guide him.

  3. I am grateful you chose to share your words with us.

  4. I am glad, you choose to write! You are one of very few authors, I enjoyed really all of their written stories.
    What you want and what you need.... what belonged to earthly goods, my wants are become fewer and fewer. But my needs? I want difficult things like more health and more safety and your words.

    1. Yes! I think this is true. More and more I want things time; evenings to myself; vacations; dinners with my husband; quiet, thoughtful mornings...

      Granted, some of these things cost money. Vacations -- trips -- cost something. But other things are more about that so-precious commodity time.

  5. Hi Josh,

    A lovely, thought-provoking essay. In its specifics, not something I have to ask myself—I have no desire to either write or publish in any context. But in a more general sense, your idea of "Be honest about what you want and what you need -- and pursue that," is something we all should think about and try to follow.

    Regardless of your reasons, or how they may have changed over the years, we are all the beneficiaries of the fact you knew from early on you wanted and needed to write. Thank you for sharing your gift.

  6. You've been reading my mail.

    1. I'm starting to think I'm reading EVERYBODY'S mail. :-D

  7. What a fascinating essay. I agree that getting paid for it is probably not what motivates most people to publish, and that definitely applies to most poets that I know of. It's about sharing the work and having your voice heard.
    If you're earning 20k that is far harder to give up than 70k. 70k means you'll have savings and money set aside and could probably fund a year's sabbatical in order to write.

    1. That could be true.

      Of course it also depends on whether you have an earning spouse and/or children to support.

      And how old you are. Because some risks are tougher as we grow older and get used to our comforts. :-D In my 20s I was pretty much up for anything.

  8. I like to think this is how Mitch dance after living with Web.

    With lightness and happiness that he never had before.

  9. You throw me off by posting on Monday, but then I was busy camping on Monday.
    In high school, I had a friend who wanted to be a journalist so I took all the crazy classes she wanted cuz I liked writing so I figured what the heck....then she dropped out of school.
    I switched to photography classes along with all my fun exciting science classes. Then I discovered cats and knew the veterinary field was my direction and never thought much about writing, and definitely not publishing.
    And along came Mr. Pinkerton. What can I say? He inspires me. ;-)
    Also, this group is so fun and encouraging that I enjoy writing and sharing my stories.
    Again, publishing? Absolutely not. Why do I write? For fun. And if others get a little enjoyment as well, that's good too.
    As for YOU writing and publishing, Josh....Yes! Don't stop!

    1. So the best part of this comment is I was reading it in my email, and I glanced at the sidebar and it was a commercial for heating/cooling with a CAT working the thermostat. MR. PINKERTON?! That was perfect. :-D

    2. Mr. Pinkerton can do EVERYTHING.

  10. Great post. I am very happy you decided to publish your work. You answered the questions I was wondering about publishing my writing as I sit here at work with coffee I somehow got in my hair.

    1. There's nothing like embracing that full contact coffee experience! :-D