Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Wrong Reasons to Write

I used to think writing was about stringing together smart sounding words to impress, and maybe confuse, the reader. I was wrong but not for the reasons you might expect.

Calvin and Hobbes Cartoon

Image courtesy of Bill Watterson. Pin this.

I wasn’t writing to express or communicate. I was doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Yes. Believe it or not, there are noble reasons and not-so-noble reasons to write. And I would encourage you to make the former your motivation for pursuing the craft.

So how can you tell which is which?

The wrong reasons to write

First, let’s look at the wrong reasons people write:

  • You want to be heard.
  • You want to be famous, to make a name for yourself.
  • You want to impress people with big words and sound smart.
  • You want to make a ton of money.

Why are those bad reasons to write?

Because sometimes, nobody will listen.

Because when you’re just getting started, you won’t have made a name for yourself. So what will sustain the work on those days when nobody shows up? It better not be the accolades and awards (you won’t have any of those yet).

Because you may never be considered an expert. So what will drive you then? If nobody approves, then why in the world will you face the blank page?

And because, well, don’t get me started on the money. Suffice it to say that most professional writers have to get creative about how they make a buck.

The question, then, is worth asking: is it still worth your time to write? You bet.

The right reasons to write

Now, let’s tackle some better reasons to put pen to paper:

  • You have something important to say.
  • You want to make others feel understood, like they’re not alone.
  • You want to make a difference with your words.
  • You want to teach the world something it wouldn’t otherwise know.

But, you might be wondering, do you really need a reason to write? Yes, I think you do. Which brings me to my final point:

Because you can’t not do it. That’s the only reason to do anything, especially writing. Because you’re called to do it.

Pardon the double negative, but this is what makes a writer: that compulsion, that drive to do what you can’t stop doing.

There’s a reason why many artists historically tend to be bipolar and often have a streak of crazy in them. That same thing that makes you obsess over an insignificant detail in life is what makes for a stroke of genius.

If you can’t quite explain it, this need to create, but just know that you have to do it, you feel compelled, then this just might be your calling.

And if you aren’t sure, that’s okay. Lots of people write for lots of different reasons. Maybe you happen to be one of the rare, sane ones. I just want to challenge you to think less in terms of what you get and more in terms of what you can give.

That’s what the work of an artist is about.

Three questions to consider

So as you tackle your work today, if you so endeavor to write, here are three questions to consider:

  1. What if instead of making it about you, you focused on others?
  2. What if you made the reader the hero, helping her feel understood in a way that she’s never felt before?
  3. What if instead of focusing on the bottom line, you paid attention to impact?

Well, then… you just might be a writer, after all.

What are some more wrong reasons to write? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I am the best-selling author of five books, including the national bestsellers The Art of Work and Real Artists Don't Starve. Each week, I send out a free newsletter with my best tips on writing, publishing, and helping your creative work succeed.

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