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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.

What’s the Point of Writing?

What’s your point? What’s your purpose as a writer? Why do you write?

You don’t have to be able to rattle off your “artist’s statement” for someone else. You don’t even need to be able to clearly articulate it for yourself.

But you do need a sense of why you write that will sustain you when the “slings and arrows” leave you questioning why you started this crazy pursuit.

You need to know why you write when you’re tired. When you’re sick or someone you care for is sick. When you’re hungover from whatever you over-indulge in (alcohol or another drug, sugar, binge watching Whatever on Netflix, social media). When you’re depressed, frustrated or alienated. When someone tries to silence you. When current events distract you. When you’re in the midst of a major change. When reality is 180 from what you planned. When your resistance is strong and your Saboteur is loud and obnoxious.

In other words, when life happens.

Why Do We Write?

In her essay, This Is What I Believe, Joyce Carol Oates lists five reasons she writes:

  • commemoration
  • bearing witness
  • self-expression
  • propaganda, “moralizing”
  • aesthetic object.

For twenty years, I’ve invited students in my Writing Habit class at the Loft Literary Center to explore the question “Why write?” through freewriting and then in a group brainstorm/discussion. Like Oates, most students mention variations on self-expression and bearing witness; many mention reasons that echo the idea of commemorating a place or time and the people of a particular place or era.

My students’ insights and reflections range beyond the five reasons Oates identifies. I suspect each writer carries our own unique blend of reasons and purpose.

Before I share my reasons, I encourage you to spend at least ten minutes considering – preferably in writing – your own. Then freewrite for ten minutes in response to the follow-up question, “Who benefits from my writing?” Include those who benefit from your writing process (the fact that you write) and your writing product (the writing you create).

I’ll wait. You need to know this about yourself. You need to know why you show up even when resistance pushes you back. Especially when resistance pushes.

Don’t scroll down until you’re done writing.

Why Do You Write?

Please share your reasons and beneficiaries in a comment. The variety of what brings us to writing is both fascinating and encouraging.

If you’re curious, some of the reasons I write are to:

  • inspire
  • encourage
  • entertain
  • educate
  • persuade
  • experience joy
  • discover what I think
  • research what others think (and then re-think what I think)
  • create new worlds and people
  • get lost in the creative experience.

The people who benefit from my writing include:

  • me
  • my family and friends (because I’m a better person when I write)
  • my readers, students and clients
  • my agent, editors, booksellers, publisher’s employees and stockholders, etc.
  • my community
  • other writers
  • pretty much everyone I come in contact with (because I’m a better person when I write).

Those are reasons I started writing, but the real reason I write now (for at least 15 minutes a day, Monday through Friday) is because it’s who I am and what I do. That’s what it means to have a sustainable habit.

You have your reasons for starting to write. It’s important to remind yourself what those reasons are and who benefits from your writing when resistance looms.

But in the end, you write because you are a writer. It’s what you do. It’s who you are.

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2 Comments on “What’s the Point of Writing?”

  1. Catherine Brennan January 4, 2018 at 1:28 pm #

    I write because:

    -for self-expression
    -to bear witness
    -to clarify and develop my thoughts
    -to pass thoughts on
    -to discover(especially now that I’ve given myself permission not to know what I’m going to write before I write it)
    -to remember, and commemorate, people, places, events and activities that I love
    -to develop my own knowledge and skills, to hone
    -to communicate
    -to soften my regret for the lapses of time in which I did not write
    -to strengthen my resolve to do all kinds of things, especially to write
    -to deal with doubt. I think I need to let it in and examine it, which is worrisome, but ultimately I think writing will help me let it go.
    -to discover the voice that a friend once told me he heard when he said, “I listen when you say something.”
    -to sort out priorities

    Who benefits?

    -Children and young adults-my grandchildren have already benefitted from things I have written for them
    -Girls and women who want/need to read a female voice, with a female protagonist
    -Boys and men who want a picture of a male apprentice learning from an older female
    -Anyone who is trying to articulate ideas
    -Anyone who reads for language, likes a colorful turn of phrase
    -Those my age who want to read about the undertaking of making writing their focus in middle age(and then some)
    -Anyone who enjoys stories

    Thanks, Rosanne, for this exercise at this time. Talk about taking advantage of the new year to renew one’s resolve! And thanks for putting yourself on your “Who Benefits” list; it inspired me to do the same.

    Happy New Year!


    • rosannebane January 5, 2018 at 3:33 pm #

      Wonderful responses, Catherine! I particularly appreciate “to soften my regret for the lapses of time in which I did not write”. If you want to expand that thought into a post about how you did that, how other writers can soften and release regret, and how that helped you and will them, I’d love to publish it as a guest post.


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