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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Why Write At All?

failure saul bassMy last post claimed that failure is the only option for writers. If I’m correct that writers are destined to fail and the best we can hope for is the perseverance to fail and fail again until we transform a series of failures into something we are satisfied with, why on earth do we write?

Frankly, most days, I write just because I said I would.

If you’ve been in one of my Loft classes, followed this blog for a while, or read Around the Writer’s Block, you probably remember that I commit to show up for Product Time (aka writing time) for 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

My targets vary from an hour to four or more hours a day, but my commitment remains than 15 minutes, 5 days a week, except when I’m on vacation, when my commitment is 0 minutes a day.

I put in my Product Time Monday through Friday simply because it’s what I do. It’s who I am.

In other words, it’s habit.

Before I Had Habits, I Had Reasons

why write Joan-Didion-Quote writer's block writing habitOf course I had reasons to write when I started, which was good because I had no writing habits back then. Like Joan Didion and Joel Canfield, who commented on the previous post, figuring out what I think is at the top of the list of why I write. I write to find answers to questions that intrigue me.

I love playing with puzzles of all kinds. I relish the gratification of seeing how the pieces fit together.

When I learn something new, make a new connection, or invent an adventure for a character, I’m eager to tell everyone about it. You might say keen, even desperate, to say “Did you know…” I’ve discovered it’s less off-putting to write and let people read if and when they want to than to pontificate in social settings.

Some of the reasons I had when I started writing were to:

  • Discover
  • Imagine
  • Teach
  • Persuade
  • Entertain
  • Encourage
  • Exchange ideas

I love to hear someone say my writing changed her life. The warm feeling that engenders can sustain me for several days. But if I wrote only when I heard my writing makes a difference, I wouldn’t do enough writing to make that satisfaction possible.

I love the good days when inspiration strikes as much as any other writer. I get euphoric when I’m in the flow and my fingers can barely keep up with the words and images streaming through my mind.

inspiration stephen king quote writer's block writing habitBut I’ve learned not to wait for inspiration.

The older we get, the less often inspiration strikes. Over time, our brains get full with what we know and what we think we know, and we get busy with all the important things we have to do. That’s too much clutter and static for inspiration to get through on a regular basis.

The more we show up and make ourselves available and open, the more opportunities we give inspiration to seize us.

Like you, I have no love the days when I’m frustrated and failing. I get a little cranky when no matter how much I move the puzzle pieces around, I fail to see how they fit together. I hate not knowing if it’s the idea that’s lacking or my ability to execute the idea. No one enjoys trying to communicate and failing.

Yet I’ve learned that frustration and failing are essential to the creative process. (In fact, they are the stars of the third of six stages of the creative process.)

It is frustration that drives us out of our typical perspective. It’s failing that forces us to abandon our standard problem-solving methods, and that departure is what makes it possible for us to discover something fresh and make new connections.

Until You Get a Habit, Use What You’ve Got

create new habitIt can be uplifting to remember your greater purpose for writing. Some people are motivated by recalling why they write – because they want to share ideas, to entertain or education, to figure out what they believe, to be recognized, to make a difference, even to get revenge.

But when you’re frustrated beyond endurance and staring unrelenting failure in the face, your purpose can pale in comparison. Habit is far more reliable.

Sooner or later, every single reason you have for writing will fail. No one will want to read your ideas. You realize your writing is neither entertaining nor illuminating. You can’t figure what you believe. The writing projects takes much, much longer than you thought possible and you go unrecognized and unappreciated far longer than you imagined. You don’t see how your writing makes any difference at all. Even your revenge seems hollow.

My deepest wish for you is that you’ll build solid writing habits before your reasons fail.

As soon as you can, give yourself the benefits of writing habits. How? By showing up every time you say you will just because you said you would. You’ll find that failing doesn’t matter so much because your primary measure of your accomplishment is entirely in your control – you show up.

Now that we addressed the emotional question of why write at all, the upcoming post can focus on the logical question of how to learn from failure.

Note: If you recognize that encouragement, accountability, tools, tips, techniques and the company of like-minded writers will help you build your writing habits, my next Writing Habit class starts April 11.

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2 Comments on “Why Write At All?”

  1. rachaelestout March 4, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    Great post!
    I totally agree with you that before we can form a habit, we have to discover why we want the habit. For me I wanted to write so I could tale the story I had been thinking about for years, once I realized that the habit followed.


    • rosannebane March 4, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

      Thanks Rachael! I think Viktor Frankl said something about being able to withstand any what when you have a strong why.


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