Why I write

Dear readers and friends,

My blog is changing. I’ll be sharing more personal perspectives on the writing life rather than teaching fiction. I find that I need to commit more time to my writing, and some things, alas, must go.  It’s exciting to have a new book coming out, and of course, the next one’s under way. They’ll now get more of my attention.  I hope you’ll still drop by and catch some of my musings on the writing life and, soon, some insights into my latest book.  With many thanks–Kay


Why I Write

I’m probably not the only writer who sometimes asks herself, Why the hell am I doing this? Writing, that is. Especially, writing novels. The answer sure isn’t glamor, money and prestige. Of course there is some income from the endeavor, but for most of us, it ain’t a lot. As for glamor, the last time I felt glamorous was sitting in my best dress at the Hugo ceremony and hearing my name from the stage–not winning an award, but being thanked by an editor. Yup, that was the high point in glamor. And those of us in the trenches know the business too well to hope for, of all things, prestige.

So if the money isn’t great, the job is rather pedestrian, and it’s short on prestige, why do it? Most of the answers I’ve heard don’t convince me. Writers may say that they want to connect with readers, or bring certain characters to life, or that they just plain “love it.”

Here is a friend of mine bravely trying to hit a golf ball out of the rough. Play it as it lies is the rule. Somehow this reminded me of the writing life.

Here is a friend of mine bravely trying to hit a golf ball out of the rough. Play it as it lies is the rule. Somehow this reminded me of the writing life.

I’ve also heard writers say they have stories that just have to get out. (I’ve never quite understood that one. What happens if the story doesn’t come out?)

I was one of those authors who, until a memorable evening last week would have answered that I write novels because “I love it.” But when an experienced novelist and writing teacher raised an eyebrow at my answer, I threw it back at him. Why do you write?

He answered: Because there’s nothing else I’m suited for.

I had an immediate reaction to that one, and it was: that’s the truth. In all honesty, this is probably the real reason I write these long, long stories taking up months of my life between page one and page 413. And put up with the plot that won’t and the editor that doesn’t get my story.

I like that answer because it’s humble, and as close to the truth as I may get . . . and it reminds me that I don’t have to be happy every day writing. I don’t have to be in love with it every day, or win a Hugo. So, the real answer, please: There’s nothing else I know how to do. Writing is what I do.

May not be profound– or is it?

12 Responses

  1. Because writing makes me happier than the other things for which I am also suited, things that pay a whole lot better and come with more prestige. Just because I can do those things does not mean they will give me the same deep satisfaction that writing does.

  2. alex S says:

    Writing stuff hurts…no, that’s inaccurate. Thinking of what to write hurts, it’s a pain in the brain. Then, there’s the rewrite stuff, ouch. That’s the time when you learn what an idiot you were the first time you wrote what you wrote before you stopped writing and went to bed much later than you should have. On the other hand, I really dislike doing gardening chores or washing the car, so I write. Then, to keep from being angry at myself for what I wrote, when I’m done, I delete the files and start over in the a.m.

  3. Rick says:

    i just can’t help myself.

  4. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Well, I am sure not like that fellow who writes because that’s all he is suited for. No one is. We are not one-dimensional beings.
    Robert Heinlein said, “The ant is a specialist. A man is a generalist.” Well, today he’d write ‘human” instead of “man.”
    I have retired 4 times so far, from 4 different occupations, and have 3 to go. Writing is one of them, and I’ll retire when I stop breathing. I write for the same reason: doing something creative is necessary for living. (Oh, you can exist without it, but live?)
    So, I write because it’s my passion.

  5. Kay says:

    Good Bob. Some of us do, though, happen to be skewed in the direction of a solitary writing craft. I once took an interest inventory test, and was perplexed to see that I had a cluster of interests in common with musicians and writers and really, nothing else!

  6. John says:

    I’m retired and a newbie. I think that I’m inspired by some event or the nagging words and ideas that creep into my head at night. I confess my pride in writing for recognition. Oh, I rationalize that my words might inspire someone but the (so often) absence of reviews brings the humbling truth home. Still, I hope that someone thinks my stuff is good. I’ve dismissed any idea of making money. I must agree with Alex that writing is a pain in the brain but far better than, in my case, washing windows.
    Thanks, Kay.

  7. For me, at least, it is a question of why I blog. I do it because it gives me a chance to write. I have several blogs, each with a different mission statement, all non-fiction. Fiction is something I aspire to but have little experience to bring to it.

    Still, not long ago, I turned in an assignment for my Creative Writing class, and was (blush) pleased to receive an A–but the kind words from my instructor “You should do more of this. You’re good at it” were more important than a good grade. Those words are what has made me dig deeper and struggle harder to be worthy of his assessment.

  8. Curt Butler says:

    … reality is, its an response to a question, but doesn’t quite answer the question.

    … try asking an Aborigine from Australia, say a thousand years ago; or, a Neanderthal working at a craft that only he knows, but doesn’t understand “WHY”, in a cave in what is today in France. Why then does he paint by firelight on cave walls and ceilings? And no doubt they was asked by others members of their clans.

    … the simple answer (unconsciously) is leaving something of yourself behind for… “POSTERITY”… writing in a sense is not a whole lot different than the cave or rock paintings left behind by the artists… that possibly only he understood the meanings of. And that goes for all art and artists… its subjective.

    … don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but it does to me when I am constantly trying to improve my craft, dealing with the long hours and rising above the criticism, of which we’ve all experienced… its a wonderful feeling when YOU know you got it right!

  9. Beduwen says:

    Loved this post! Lots of good comments…. I can so relate to the golf photo, what a great analogy. As for me, I write because I have stories to tell. Or rather, experiences that I want to weave into stories, with the ultimate goal of speaking to someone and helping that someone get through something similar, giving a little hope maybe.

  10. Kay says:

    With all the aggravations and tough market conditions, I still believe a writer’s motivations are, perhaps unbeknownst to the writer herself, very deep, profound and even a bit dismaying. I don’t see how we stick with it, otherwise.

  11. Brett says:

    Hi Ms. Kenyon,
    I’ve been thinking about some of this myself lately and I feel like there are too many aspiring authors who are writing for the wrong reasons. In terms of money, I have to wonder what are we defining as “a lot”? For me, if one day I’m working a full time job and am blessed enough to be making roughly five figures writing, well that’s good enough money. Whenever money is discussed in terms of writing, people seem to be thinking of J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. This isn’t to say that you were, but that some aspiring authors strive to be making the kind of money like they do. I hear certain authors discuss how sad it is that authors cannot make a lot of money doing what they love or that they are just writing because they want to be rich one day (like John Scalzi). What’s wrong with having a full-time job and writing five pages a night? Worst case scenario, the writing will enable someone to retire sooner as long as they keep at it (MAJOR EMPHASIS ON THOSE LAST THREE WORDS). I truly believe that writing is ten percent talent and ninety percent tenacity. You can have the talent in the world. If you give up, it’ll never happen.
    Thanks for another insightful post. I sincerely apologize if this reply has come off a bit glib, it was not my intent. I am looking forward to your next book.

  12. Kay says:

    Not glib at all, Brett. We’d all better think carefully about the money part of this, because it will affect our attitudes and our household budgets. The scenario you outline is very solid. Have a day job; count writing income as extra. That’s not only wise, it’s practical, since it’s what most writers will inevitably end up with. We should learn to live with this, and enjoy what writing Does bring us without comparison to the star players in our field. Thanks for writing!

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