Why write?


Writing workshops and cons are great fun. It’s pleasant hanging out with people who don’t panic when they overhear a heated discussion over whether a dagger or a short sword would be a better choice to try and kill a king. Besides, we spend a lot of time holed up in our houses, and getting out is healthy. Every now and then, the question will come up, “Why do you write?” Every single time, somebody in the group will sigh soulfully and intone, “I write because I must.”

It’s not that I don’t believe some folks feel this way. Quite a few writers I respect clearly do. It’s just that it has become THE catch phrase. It doesn’t sound like a reason; it sounds like the kind of thing a pretender says to sound enigmatic and throw the questioner off track. People who use that tend to be the ones who’re writing for fame and fortune, and that’s like having a baby to save your marriage. It almost never works and you end up awfully tired.

The writers I know have desks loaded with ideas scribbled on scraps of paper (or sometimes sticky notes in various colors stuck all over), ARCs, library books, pens, little good luck toys and such. If this is an already published writer, there’s likely a stack of copyedits on a side table that she’s going to finish later on. Half a dozen magazines that the writer hopes to sell to are stacked on the floor by the chair. She writes with her hair in a ponytail and no makeup, wearing pajamas or sweats. She has a cup of coffee or tea nearby that ends up cold because she forgot to drink it. If she happens to answer the phone, goodness only knows what the conversation might be like, because her mind is still stuck in the world she’s writing. There are no million-dollar advances or visits with Oprah in this picture, but that’s okay, because that’s not why she’s writing.

I write because I keep having these cool ideas, and I want to tell everybody at once. It’s a lot easier to write them down than to spend the day on the phone telling one person at a time. Especially because I hate talking on the phone. I write because it makes me happy to do so. I write because when I’m writing, I’m not worried about the economy or the Beetle’s college prospects or my parents’ health. As one of my favorite fictional characters said, I must do nothin’. If I stopped writing tomorrow, the stories would still be in my head, entertaining me. I’m writing them down because y’all seem to like reading them, and I’m just that kind of a giver. *grin*

You all have heard, by now, about the latest news from HarperCollins, and should know about the downsizing of publishing in general. It’s scary, no question, but it’s also going to be interesting to see how the changes trickle down. With competition becoming fiercer in the face of more limited purchasing by publishers and print magazines folding every week, will the pretenders wander off to play at some other endeavor? Will the slush piles be slashed? I think Faith said it best – what arises from the ashes is going to be a pretty impressive beast. The romantic ideal of being a writer may evolve into more of a warrior’s role. I can see it now…there I stand, my next contract raised high, in my slippers and sweatshirt, triumphant.

Just call me Misty, Slayer of Manuscript Demons. Who’s coming with me?

Misty Massey


22 comments to Why write?

  • >>She writes with her hair in a ponytail and no makeup, wearing pajamas or sweats.<<

    It’s funny, I know some writers (myself included) who have to get dressed in order to write. I’m not being facetious at all. If I write in my PJs, I feel like I’m not being serious and I don’t get much done, or what I get done isn’t very good. I need to feel that I’m doing something to signify the beginning of the work day. I once heard someone — a woman — refer to this as “putting on my nylons”. Now for the record, I don’t wear nylons (though I definitely have the legs for it) but I do need to feel that I’m putting on work clothes before I step into my home office. That just works better for me. The make-up, on the other hand, I can do without….

    Nice post, Misty. I write because I have stories and people in my head who are demanding my attention, and giving me no choice but to give voice to what they have to say. Some people call that multiple personality disorder. I call it my muse….

  • Beatriz

    Just call me Misty, Slayer of Manuscript Demons.

    Misty, you realize, of course, that MUST be made into a tee shirt for DragonCon, doncha?

    David, shhh, don’t say the m word around Faith or hers will show up. ~shudders~

    I read because folks like you and David and Faith and Catie keep writing entertaining stories that I can fall into and get lost.

  • “I write because I keep having these cool ideas, and I want to tell everybody at once.”

    Bingo. And thank you.

    Even many successful writers say that they write because they have to, and often go on to say that you SHOULDN’T write unless you have to. That leads to self-doubt, at least in me. I don’t have to write, so maybe I shouldn’t be doing it?

    But I have stories to tell!

  • Heh! I have to put my shoes on to feel like I’m officially starting the day. Slippers won’t cut it, has to be my shoes. I haven’t tested yet whether I need other articles of my day clothes or just my shoes. Maybe I can wear my PJs or bathrobe and my shoes…That would look odd. 😉

    I write for multiple reasons. One of those is that I have a bunch of junk floating around in me ol noggin and I have to get some of it out so that I can think properly about other things. I have cool stories that I think other people might like too and I can either hang out at a campfire and hope people come by to listen or I can write ’em down. I kind of like the idea of being able to go somewhere and see a book I’ve written on a bookshelf and say, “hey, I wrote that.” And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about the fame and fortune aspect, though I also know that 1 book a year isn’t gonna cut it and I need to start treating the writing as a job if I’m gonna get anywhere. Course, that’ll give me 3 full time jobs (housedad, chores, writing) and one part time job (special effects) right now. I really need some time management. 😉

  • David, for me it’s the opposite. When I dress nicely and wear makeup, I can’t relax at my desk, because I feel like I need to be moving and doing stuff. In my lazy clothes and slippers, I can create. But as you have said many times, there’s no right way. 😀

    Bea, wouldn’t that attract just ALL kinds of weird attention? *giggle*

    Phiala said, “That leads to self-doubt, at least in me. I don’t have to write, so maybe I shouldn’t be doing it?”

    Exactly! It’s hard enough to believe in ourselves without thinking we’re defective because we don’t collapse with the vapors if we miss a day of writing. 😀

  • Daniel said, “I kind of like the idea of being able to go somewhere and see a book I’ve written on a bookshelf and say, “hey, I wrote that.”

    A lovely sentiment!

    Daydreaming about the fame and fortune is fun – heck, I do it more often than I should. It’s the people who write ONLY because they think it will make them rich that make me a little crazy.

  • David said…Now for the record, I don’t wear nylons (though I definitely have the legs for it).

    So, I have to ask — who wants to see David’s legs? Show of hands? I do, I do, I do! (grins) Nylons optional, but maybe some of those oldfashioned stockings squires used to wear…

    Bea, My Muse may need a wardrobe. I think I’ll start out with chaps…

    Misty… I wish I knew why I write. Some days I totally freaking just hate it! However, today was one of the *here’s why* days. I did a signing in my local bookstore and had fans drive down from Charlotte and up from Columbia. (70-ish miles). I saw people who have been fans since book 1 under my first pen name. Several people picked up a book and said, “I’ll be finished tonight. When is the next one?” It was wonderful. They *like* my stories!!!!

    And I had lunch with 15 year old writer with writing-stars in her eyes and two finished books under her belt already…and I remembered the dream. I remembered why I write. For the joy of the story
    (waves to Melanie)

  • Faith asked, “So, I have to ask — who wants to see David’s legs? Show of hands?”

    *raises hand*

    Faith also said, “I remembered why I write. For the joy of the story.”

    And there it is. 😀

  • “It’s hard enough to believe in ourselves without thinking we’re defective because we don’t collapse with the vapors if we miss a day of writing.”

    Thank you again! And also, *giggle*

    Plus, the word you want is “hosen”. For David’s legs, that is.

  • Phiala! Yes! Hosen!
    We want to see David’s legs in hosen!!!! Whoowhoo!

  • Todd wears hosen when we go to faire… the only thing better than a man in hosen is a man in a kilt.

    So, David?

  • I really just need to learn when to shut the f*#k up….

  • Beatriz

    ~jumps up, waves her hand, chants~

    David’s legs. David’s legs. David’s legs.

    ~giggles madly, runs to hide behind Faith~

  • I vote for David in a kilt. 🙂 He then can hang around with my muse who spends more time in pubs than at my desk, the rascal. I have threatened to replace him with a Roman centurion, but he gave me that charming smile and a few plotbunnies, and I kept him.

    Why I write? Hm, because it’s fun – can you say that alound? 😉 (Ok, there are days when I have to drag the words on the page kicking and screaming, but overall it is fun). I came to writing rather late – if you don’t count that horrible teenage Mary Sue self insert War and Peace fanfiction – and purely by chance: one night I just started writing a scene about two men fighting, one of them our friend Roderic. Somehow that thing grew and became a big book, albeit a crappy one. At which point I decided I needed to learn how to write a good book because I have my head full of ideas I want to share, and producing books you can find on the shelves is the best way to do that.

    But I admit I’m not llooking forward to deadlines. I’m afraid it will take some of the fun out of it.

  • Why do I write?

    Because I can’t sing or dance! *bada ching*

    (or write jokes)

  • Liz

    Oh you guys crack me up. I write because if I didn’t the voices in my head would never stop. No, but seriously – I have a compulsion and on days where I can’t manage to write, because of Real Life, I end up feeling like I’ve wasted my day and my time and somehow cheated on my WIP. It is an awful awful feeling.

    And I vote for the kilt idea too – nothing prettier than a man in with a well turned leg in a kilt, scratching his sporran.

    Go David, go David!

  • Jen

    I don’t write because I must. I write because I enjoy it. Because I love the English language and it makes me unbelievably happy to toy with its various idiosyncrasies. I love learning the rules, and knowing that I can break them.

    I write because writing is cheaper than Prozac.

    That and the fact that these characters have become some of my nearest and dearest friends, and I want to know what going on in their lives. The only way to do that is to write it out.

    As a side note, I wanna see David in a kilt! It will either be a great joy at seeing a man in a kilt, or incredibly entertaining because…well, it’s a man in a kilt. It’s a win-win situation. For me, anyway.

  • Sorry, y’all. No kilts. No hosen. But if you come to ConCarolinas you’ll see me in shorts and a t-shirt. Best I can offer.

  • StephDellosa


    That’s also why I write–because it’s fun! And all those stories in my head that want to come out. Getting crowded in there because I don’t have as much time to write.

  • So I was going to comment on the post… but then saw numerous references to David’s legs. I say, if you got em, flaunt em!

    Anyway… 😀 I think you’ve definitely hit the nail on the head here, Misty. A lot of people say they ‘have to write’ but often I don’t think they know why. They just say it because it sounds correct, as you said. But I think the drive that makes so many authors utterly have to write is the fact that it’s more productive than the direct and literal approach to getting stories and characters out of our heads. Stories must be told, characters will *not* sit quietly and let one write university papers. These are the reasons we have to write.

  • Hayley, that’s so true. I was supposed to write an university paper when Roderic and Kjartan decided to have a duel. A moment before I had no idea they even existed.

    But if I ever said that two men changed my life, I’d be sure to get funny looks. 😀

  • Mia

    It’s been a while since this was posted, but I’m playing catch up with all the wonderful articles that have been posted here.
    Miss Misty- I love the way you phrased it, simply because it’s true. “I write because I must.” I try and explain this to my family, and they laugh. This is the exact reason though, if not, I’d probably be insane.

    P.S. Can I be a slayer too? I think it would be fun. ^^