Why Do You Write?

This past weekend, I was in the company of hundreds of other writers at Muse and the Marketplace 2019, “a three-day literary conference designed to give aspiring writers a better understanding about the craft of writing fiction and non-fiction, to prepare them for the changing world of publishing and promotion, and to create opportunities for meaningful networking.” For three glorious days, I was surrounded by a diverse group of people united in their love of books and writing. So many aspiring writers, so many stories, so many reasons for writing.

The theme of the conference this year was writing during a time of upheaval (personal, political, or cultural), and the message was clear: we must not allow ourselves to be silenced by fear or opposition or hardship. Bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea kicked off the conference with a keynote speech that was passionate and funny and mesmerizing. He spoke openly about overcoming shame and intentionally writing about life experiences that he’d been told to keep quiet about. He encouraged writers to notice the details that make their stories uniquely their own, stories only they can tell.

In the sessions I attended over the weekend, presenters spoke about finding their voice and writing despite the risks to themselves and their families. Lawyers for the family of convicted child molester Ricky Langley did not want Alex Marzano-Lesnevich to write about him in her memoir, The Fact of a Body. She fought the federal lawsuit while she continued to write. Anuradha Bhagwati received threats and risked the ire of family members and the Marine Corp when she wrote about her experience of racism, misogyny, and sexual assault in Unbecoming: A Memoir of Disobedience. She refused to give up. Kelly Ford, author of Cottonmouths, spoke passionately about writing stories with “unlikable” female protagonists and the negative reactions of agents, publishers and readers who disapproved of characters who didn’t conform to their expectations. She then handed out a list of bestselling books that have broken the rules. (Contact me if you’d like the list.)

All of these writers had stories they were burning to tell, whether or not anyone wanted to hear them. In fact, even as they were writing their stories, they knew there were people who definitely did NOT want their books to be published or read. But nevertheless, they persisted. They had a story inside them that needed to get out. They couldn’t stop writing if they tried. (Though Ms. Bhagwati, speaking from experience, emphasized the importance of self-care and restorative breaks when writing about trauma.)

Despite the critics and dissenters, these writers suspected there were people out there who needed to hear what they had to say—and they were right.

To persist with your writing during difficult times, to get past all the obstacles in your way, ask yourself why you are writing what you’re writing.

Why do you care? Why does your particular story or point matter to you?

If you’re writing during a time of upheaval—and that includes writing while raising kids or juggling a full-time job or caring for a sick parent—and you want to be successful, then write something that’s meaningful to YOU, something only you can write.