The response is probably as varied as the people asking it, ranging from the rather vague – I write because I have to, to the more pragmatic – it helps pay the bills.
But writing is such a difficult and lonely activity that I believe there has to be a deeper and more significant reason that explains why we keep returning to our keyboards.
Why is it important to know? Because when we lose our way – and sooner or later we all do, when the muse and market-place glance the other way, when the critics descend upon us like a plague of locusts – we need to grab hold of that reason and use it to help pull ourselves back up to higher ground.
“It pays the bills,” won’t do then. There are other easier ways to pay the bills. Neither will, “I write because I have to,” since during such times it doesn’t feel like you have to at all.
The answer is probably two-fold. The first part is true for most writers: realise that what you’re feeling now will inevitably change. Your strength and self-belief in your abilities will return, prompted by more positive reviews, fresh insights, wonderful new ideas, better sales.
The second part you have to work out for yourself. What is it about the craft of writing, specifically, that brought you to the deep well in the first place? Remember that feeling you had when you wrote that first paragraph, page, chapter, that got you hooked.
For me it was a short story I wrote for a school assignment about the unbounded joy a homeless kid feels when he finds a shiny coin in the street. The idea sprang out of nowhere and practically wrote itself. I remember that last line well. It said: “And in his little black hand, the shiny 50 cent piece was set off even more.” Naive as it was, it had heart and a social conscience beyond my conscious ability to craft it.
The story made it to the school’s end-of-year magazine and proved to me that there was a voice inside me that had something to say if I could just find a way to activate it. It was the start of my journey.
I’m sure you have an equally meaningful memory about the moment when you first realised that you had something to say. Remind yourself of it when the going gets tough. It may just help you get back on track.
Never forget the moment when you first realised you had something to say as a writer.
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