Why Writers Write (Hint: It’s Not for the Money)

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Johanna Castro who is a freelance writer living in Western Australia. She champions voyages of discovery to dream places and quiet spaces on her travel blog, Zigazag. Follow her on Twitter @JohannaACastro.

The other day, I was having coffee with a friend who said she thought writing was a waste of time. She went on to ask why I spent so much time at the computer.

Typewriter Keys
Photo credit: Raúl Hernández González (Creative Commons)

“It’s not as if you’re earning a fortune,” she said, slowly licking the cappuccino froth from her top lip. I was a taken aback. After all, I didn’t think it was her place to question me. Especially since she isn’t a writer.

Words and ideas

I realized the fact that my friend isn’t a writer was the crux of the matter. Non-writers don’t get why writers write.

They think you haven’t really “made it” and can’t be called a writer until you’re a New York Times best-selling author or have several traditionally-published titles.

In fact, sometimes those closest to us don’t understand why we do what we do. Just the other day, my husband pointed out I might make more money behind a bar or cleaning houses. My mother often wonders why I didn’t keep trying to be a secretary.

And sometimes, deep down inside, I wonder the same. I even question why I continue to write:

Why do I spend so much time dreaming up words and ideas that I hope might inspire people? What’s the point?

Maybe you’ve thought the same.

Getting out of the comfort zone

A couple weeks ago, I went camping for 12 days in the Outback of Australia on a Kimberley safari with Adventure Wild, a tour company.

I expected to be camping with a tribe of young, energetic 30-somethings. But what I found was a group of jovial baby-boomers, intent on making the most of a camping trip while they were still agile enough to hike, climb, and swim.

During the trip, we were all taken well out of our comfort zones and were better for it.

There were few comforts on this trip. We slept in remote camping spots — isolated places deep in the bush, often without showers and only “long drop” toilets (not to mention snakes, spiders, lizards, mosquitoes, and more).

Through these discomforts, we learned something important about ourselves and what it takes to live an adventure.

Hoping for the unexpected

Although the scenery on the trip was beautiful, we were daily confronted with new norms. For 12 days, our minds and bodies were stretched to extremes. We grew.

Not once did I hear someone complain about sleeping on the ground or helping with the chores. I was inspired as I watched fellow campers walking rocky paths alongside gorges and chasms and setting up their tents in record time.

These boomers were seriously out of their comfort zones. It must have been difficult for some, but they were oblivious to the fact. Instead, they looked forward to each new turn in the trail — filled with excitement and anticipation, hoping for the unexpected.

And for some reason, I thought of writing.

Pushing barriers in life (and writing)

Perhaps being taken out of your comfort zone isn’t such a bad thing.

It took a physical jolt to make me realize why I love writing. It’s the push, the striving, the discomfort that makes it all worth the sacrifice.

Why do writers write?

We write because it pushes us beyond the barriers of everyday existence into a world of what might be. A world of opportunity. An infinite variety of maybes and what ifs. A vast plain of words that might help describe the world in which we live.

Expect the unexpected

For a writer, no two days are the same. The path may not always be smooth and predictable, but there are always new sights to see. There is always more to explore.

Like any great journey, writing is full of its ups and downs. Sometimes, it feels like riding a roller coaster; other times, it’s like riding a donkey.

We can be taken from Byzantine riches to Ethiopian droughts — from good to bad and dark to light — in the flash of a feature or the length of a short story.

There’s no comfort in a thrilling story, and the same is true for a writer’s life. It is an isolated — but far from lonely — experience. With our words and fellow “travelers” to keep us company, adventure lurks around every corner.

Not a waste of time

For a moment, my friend’s comment rubbed the wrong way. But she got me thinking.

Writing can never be a waste of time, because it takes you places you would never go. Not if your feet are firmly planted on the ground, in the here and now.

There’s a lot more to the writing life than what we earn — or don’t earn. After all, it’s not our possessions or paychecks that make for a fulfilled life. It’s those moments we choose to step into discomfort that our stories begin to be interesting.

A trip to the Australian Outback taught me that.

Being away from your routine and placing yourself in a strange environment is challenging. Each moment is full of excitement and anticipation about what could happen next. It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.

Just like writing. Just like life.

What do you think? Share in the comments.

If you need help getting started as a writer, check out The Writer’s Studio, an in-depth audio program, eBook, and writing worksheet.