In 2009, I read a book that changed my life.
I know that when people say something “changed their life” they don’t always mean it, or maybe they do but it’s nothing more than an empty revelation. But this book really did change everything for me. Because it was the first book that ever made me cry.
John Green’s Looking for Alaska is the only book I have read more than twice. I recently read it a third time, and then sat down to watch the new Hulu series that brings the story to life on the small screen.
I was reminded, once again — and likely not for the last time — that I have a purpose in this world. And that purpose is to, among many other things, write stories that make people feel.
Perhaps, I often think, my book could be the first book that makes someone cry like Alaska did for me.
(There are plenty of other reasons why I love this book, though I won’t get into them now — but its emotional impact certainly stands out.)
For me, this reason — this “why” — is what keeps me going when I don’t feel like writing is worth it anymore. Having a purpose for my work changed the way I approach writing even way back then. And it continues to fuel me even in the moments I’m not sure I’m doing any of this right.
Do you know your “why”? Your purpose for telling the stories on your heart?
It’s time to find it. Or remember it, if you’ve lost it.
Your “why” can technically be anything you want it to be. But the more time and effort you put into defining your purpose as a writer, the more likely it is that it will motivate you to continue writing even when you hit roadblocks and other creative barriers along the way.
Why does your ‘why’ matter?
You’re probably already aware that writing and being a writer are extremely challenging and often overwhelming circumstances.
We “subject” ourselves to these circumstances even though we technically could choose not to. Because deep down, despite how much of a struggle all this is sometimes, we love to write. We crave it. Some of us even need to do it in order to feel like our fully functional, complete selves.
All of us, whether we realize it or not, have an underlying reason for doing what we do. We don’t write simply because it’s fun and we definitely don’t do it because there are unlimited job opportunities available to the masses (because, for whatever reason, everyone wants to be a writer).
If you don’t already know your reason — your “why” — start off by knowing that having a purpose as a writer is the force that drives the majority of creatives to endure the many hardships that people in our profession face. Having a reason makes all this seem worth it, even if the payoff (literally and figuratively) can take awhile.
Your “why” has to be something that will convince you to keep writing even when you are in the middle of your worst day. Only you know what motivates you most to keep moving forward in the long-term. If you can lean on the things you are most passionate about, if you can create a constant reminder to yourself that your words are somehow worth it and they’re helping you work toward some kind of larger end goal, you will be much more likely to continue moving forward no matter what.
What does a writer’s “why” look like?
My “why” is a combination of elements, including parts of my overall professional mission statement, as well as my desires as a creator and the kind of mark I want to leave on the world. I want to help people help themselves. I want to motivate people to learn and grow. And I want to write things that inspire people to follow their dreams. I have my own specific plans for doing these things, but this is how I came up with my “why.” My purpose.
When you are considering yours, think about the things that bring you the most joy even when there isn’t much other light in your life. Think about the subjects or topics you are most interested in, the things that get you most excited. Think about the kinds of people you like to work with and spend time with. Think about the things that make you just plain happy to be in this world.
Your purpose for writing starts with you. What you like, what you don’t like, what you want to change, who you want to help.
Of course, some people have other “why”s in mind. Getting rich. Becoming famous. Being “the next [insert renowned author here]. I’m not judging these reasons on a personal level. My only concern with ambitions like these is that they are not sustainable. What if your only goal is to make money and you don’t make money for the first year? Would you even make it a whole year? What if you never get famous? What if you never write a best-selling book?
Will you keep writing if your reasons for doing so are nothing more than dreams that may never come true?
If your “why” is to tell stories that motivate people to change, then things like money and recognition can absolutely be perks — after all, these are all things we want, even if only in the backs of our minds. But your “why” — helping people, for example — will still be achievable even if the money doesn’t roll in or you don’t get famous.
We all have days when we’d just rather “not.” But when you no longer have a choice, or you know you need to get back to writing no matter how much of a struggle you’re worried it’s going to be, it helps to have a reason to lean on. Something to turn to when it seems as though nothing else is going to help you do what needs to get done.
So, do you know your “why”? And how does it help you continue to work toward becoming the writer you have always wanted to be?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.