Writing for the Love of it

The real secret is to do it because you love writing
rather than because you love the idea of being a Writer.
– Iain Banks

I once got into an odd conversation with someone about writing… let’s call this person Frank the Writer. So Frank saw my pile of writing magazines, and I could tell by his expression upon opening one of the issues that he was surprised I highlighted certain sentences which I found insightful or helpful to me as a writer. Watching him read my notes in my old Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, and The Writer issues was, for some reason, like watching a child realize there is no Santa.

Frank asked why I think I’m a writer, and I responded, “Because I have to write, or face the possibility of insanity.” I added something about how I’m drawn to writing, that I get personal satisfaction from it. I asked him if he didn’t feel the same.

“No,” he said. I’ve never heard anyone sound so mournful. “I don’t. I read these books that tell me I should feel something that tells me I’m a writer, just like how you just told me, but I don’t. I never feel anything when I write.”

This was puzzling to me. How can you write something and not feel anything while writing it? I asked Frank a series of questions which led me nowhere until, frustrated, I asked, “Do you want to write, or be considered a writer?”

“I want to be a writer.” No wonder he never felt anything when writing. His motivation was all wrong. He wanted the fame without the work. He wasn’t writing because he felt any special need to, or because he wanted to send a message of sorts out into the world, or even because he thought he had a story to tell, but because he wanted the recognition for being brilliant. No wonder his writing felt cold, empty.

Writing takes guts, patience, and stamina to do what it takes to be “considered a writer.” It takes years to be “discovered,” and by that point you will have numerous drafts hidden beneath your bed, stuffed in a back cupboard, shoved between cracks in the wall. Even if you go the self-publishing route, you have to be a savvy business-minded writer to make the publishing process worth it.

What do you think? I know some of you have multiple drafts lurking in the dark corners, and others of you with agents. What do you have to say to Frank and his misplaced motivation? Can I help him learn to love the process that is writing rather than love the idea of being a Writer?

16 thoughts on “Writing for the Love of it

  1. … Almost all the writers I've ever talked to could announce that 'they were a writer' as if the statement was on-par with declaring themselves human. I've always known that I was supposed to write things. Cheesy as it might sound, it feels like my purpose.

    When I was thirteen or fourteen I stumbled across a writer's chat room, and someone was talking about having published a book. I was awed: a published person! I asked them about their book, and they muttered something about 'just some swords and sorcery mumbo-jumbo'. I left in some amount of shock, horrified at the thought that someone could write something that they weren't in love with. What was the point?

    Perhaps writing for the romantic writer-title is similar to wanting to be a doctor because of the pay, or a parent because you want to tell people at the high school football games 'that one is mine'. If it were me, writing and learning about writing would be a form of torture if I didn't love it so much.

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  2. … Almost all the writers I’ve ever talked to could announce that ‘they were a writer’ as if the statement was on-par with declaring themselves human. I’ve always known that I was supposed to write things. Cheesy as it might sound, it feels like my purpose.

    When I was thirteen or fourteen I stumbled across a writer’s chat room, and someone was talking about having published a book. I was awed: a published person! I asked them about their book, and they muttered something about ‘just some swords and sorcery mumbo-jumbo’. I left in some amount of shock, horrified at the thought that someone could write something that they weren’t in love with. What was the point?

    Perhaps writing for the romantic writer-title is similar to wanting to be a doctor because of the pay, or a parent because you want to tell people at the high school football games ‘that one is mine’. If it were me, writing and learning about writing would be a form of torture if I didn’t love it so much.

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  3. … Almost all the writers I’ve ever talked to could announce that ‘they were a writer’ as if the statement was on-par with declaring themselves human. I’ve always known that I was supposed to write things. Cheesy as it might sound, it feels like my purpose.

    That’s exactly my point. I’ve never met a writer who didn’t love writing, the process, the frustration and tears when the words won’t come, the jubiliation when the words are exactly what they ought to be.

    Frank the writer isn’t writing romance; the genre really isn’t the point, anyway. He simply wants to be considered a writer, and cannot comprehend the idea of just being a writer. Writing for me is as imperative as breathing, and given your comment, I suspect you feel the same way. This is not the case for him. And I’m not sure I can even help. Like you said, what’s the point in writing if you don’t love it?

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  4. … Almost all the writers I’ve ever talked to could announce that ‘they were a writer’ as if the statement was on-par with declaring themselves human. I’ve always known that I was supposed to write things. Cheesy as it might sound, it feels like my purpose.

    That’s exactly my point. I’ve never met a writer who didn’t love writing, the process, the frustration and tears when the words won’t come, the jubiliation when the words are exactly what they ought to be.

    Frank the writer isn’t writing romance; the genre really isn’t the point, anyway. He simply wants to be considered a writer, and cannot comprehend the idea of just being a writer. Writing for me is as imperative as breathing, and given your comment, I suspect you feel the same way. This is not the case for him. And I’m not sure I can even help. Like you said, what’s the point in writing if you don’t love it?

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  5. Pity poor 'Frank the Writer'. He clearly has never had one of those Writer Moments, like I've recently had from reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for the first time.

    The first paragraph of Chapter XII is so beautifully (but simply) written, that I had to read it through three times before I could bear to leave it behind and continue with the rest of the story.

    The first thing to say about this is you don't need to be writing to have a Writer Moment (writing is only part of the process).

    But it also struck me that writers have a different perception of literature – perhaps because they understand the processes better. That sounds a bit pompous, now that I've read it back, but that little passage from Tom Sawyer made my day, and I wonder whether anything anybody has ever written ever did the same for Frank the Writer.

    If it hasn't, there's no hope for him.

    By the way, I should say that after a lifetime of hearing about Mark Twain and thinking, every time, "I really should get round to reading some of his stuff to find out what all the fuss is about," the straw that broke the donkey's back and sent me to the bookshop was a mention of him on this website.

    So thanks for that.

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  6. Pity poor ‘Frank the Writer’. He clearly has never had one of those Writer Moments, like I’ve recently had from reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for the first time.

    The first paragraph of Chapter XII is so beautifully (but simply) written, that I had to read it through three times before I could bear to leave it behind and continue with the rest of the story.

    The first thing to say about this is you don’t need to be writing to have a Writer Moment (writing is only part of the process).

    But it also struck me that writers have a different perception of literature – perhaps because they understand the processes better. That sounds a bit pompous, now that I’ve read it back, but that little passage from Tom Sawyer made my day, and I wonder whether anything anybody has ever written ever did the same for Frank the Writer.

    If it hasn’t, there’s no hope for him.

    By the way, I should say that after a lifetime of hearing about Mark Twain and thinking, every time, “I really should get round to reading some of his stuff to find out what all the fuss is about,” the straw that broke the donkey’s back and sent me to the bookshop was a mention of him on this website.
    So thanks for that.

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  7. What an excellent point. I never thought of it that way. I have Writer Moments all the time, and I suppose I assumed he did as well. And I agree, I feel writers do have a different perception of literature, both because they understand the process, and because (especially if they read something good) they want to know how to improve their own writing.

    Reading is to writers as training is to athletes.

    I hope this isn't the case for Frank the Writer…I think writing would be a dismal thing without the knowledge of what a good passage can do to a reader.

    And I'm so glad you picked up Mark Twain! I have to admit, I've only ever read a couple of his critiques and essays…which means none of the popular work that everyone knows him for. I do plan to read The Mysterious Stranger, though. I hope you post a quick review on your blog discussing any other Writer Moments that come up!

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  8. What an excellent point. I never thought of it that way. I have Writer Moments all the time, and I suppose I assumed he did as well. And I agree, I feel writers do have a different perception of literature, both because they understand the process, and because (especially if they read something good) they want to know how to improve their own writing.

    Reading is to writers as training is to athletes.

    I hope this isn’t the case for Frank the Writer…I think writing would be a dismal thing without the knowledge of what a good passage can do to a reader.

    And I’m so glad you picked up Mark Twain! I have to admit, I’ve only ever read a couple of his critiques and essays…which means none of the popular work that everyone knows him for. I do plan to read The Mysterious Stranger, though. I hope you post a quick review on your blog discussing any other Writer Moments that come up!

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  9. OMG Belinda–this post was a zinger. I know I'm very guilty of wanting to be thought "brilliant" for being a writer, instead of having the right motivations for doing this. I'm going to save this post. Thank you so much, it was right on time.

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  10. OMG Belinda–this post was a zinger. I know I’m very guilty of wanting to be thought “brilliant” for being a writer, instead of having the right motivations for doing this. I’m going to save this post. Thank you so much, it was right on time.

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  11. Arg–not that I've never had those "writer moments," but I've allowed my past to muddle my agenda, and I have to force myself out of the tendency to hoard the pride of being a writer instead of just being one.

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  12. Arg–not that I’ve never had those “writer moments,” but I’ve allowed my past to muddle my agenda, and I have to force myself out of the tendency to hoard the pride of being a writer instead of just being one.

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  13. Evangeline — It's hard for a lot of people to determine their motivation, and even harder to know the difference between being a Writer and allowing one's writing to speak for itself. I'll admit that I take great pride in considering myself a writer, both because I know that I work hard at it, and because I truly feel this is what defines me. But I have my off-days as well, where I wish things weren't so hard, that everyone would just acknowledge that I'm a Writer, and be done with it.

    My concern comes in when this wishful thinking defines a would-be-Writer's thoughts, rather than realizing the truth that writing is just as hard as other talents. And that if it's worth it, you'll work hard so that the Writer moniker is natural rather than forced.

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  14. Evangeline — It’s hard for a lot of people to determine their motivation, and even harder to know the difference between being a Writer and allowing one’s writing to speak for itself. I’ll admit that I take great pride in considering myself a writer, both because I know that I work hard at it, and because I truly feel this is what defines me. But I have my off-days as well, where I wish things weren’t so hard, that everyone would just acknowledge that I’m a Writer, and be done with it.

    My concern comes in when this wishful thinking defines a would-be-Writer’s thoughts, rather than realizing the truth that writing is just as hard as other talents. And that if it’s worth it, you’ll work hard so that the Writer moniker is natural rather than forced.

    Like

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