by Meg Dowell
You likely learned in school that writing an essay begins with defining your target audience and purpose for reaching out to them. We all wrote that essay about whether or not our school should or shouldn’t have uniforms (did schools who already had uniforms still argue this?). Audience: school board. Purpose: convince the authority figures that we should or should not all dress alike.
Your writing purpose, believe it or not, extends beyond a single project. The most successful writers out there all have a definite purpose for writing. It’s what has driven them to put in the years of effort and practice to get to where they are now.
You might be thinking, “Wrong. I don’t have a purpose for writing. It’s just a thing I do.” Fair. But have you ever considered that your automatic reflex to write is actually your purpose for writing?
Some people – myself included – write on large part because the brain can be a confusing, overwhelming place. All those thoughts have to go somewhere. Often times, we dump them out using pen and paper, or some more modern equivalent. You write because there’s some deeper need for you to do so. That’s reason enough to continue, don’t you think?
Everyone has different reasons for putting their ideas into words. Do you know what your purpose is, for playing the part of the literary mastermind?
Why are you writing what you’re writing right now?
Is it because you feel like you have to?
Because you enjoy it?
Because you feel like it’s the only thing you’re good at?
The only job you’ll ever get?
When defining your purpose for writing – in general, or considering one specific project – the first thing you need to do is erase the facade of expectations. What others expect you to do, what you expect yourself to do, that’s not a stable foundation for consistently creating things. It might drive you for a little while, but the truth is, other people really don’t care that you’re writing, and neither will you – and poof. There goes your motivation, your sole reason for bothering to write.
Next, form a definite separation between what you want and/or need out of a writing career or hobby and the kind of impact you want to leave on the world. Deep down, I write because I have to – in the sense that there are too many racing thoughts in my head that I need to constructively flush out. Even deeper than that, I want what I write to empower people to improve themselves and make healthy, constructive choices.
Everyone has a more ‘selfish’ reason for writing. You also need a selfless one. Because there are going to be moments when you’re so frustrated and fed up with the way writing is going that you’re going to stop caring, even if only temporarily. And once that selfish reason for writing is gone, what’s left to drive you forward even when you don’t want to write? The second reason for writing – your selfless reason. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for other people. How else do you think I’ve managed to keep up a daily posting schedule for 18 months? When I don’t feel like blogging, I do it anyway, because of you. : )
And it works both ways. When I write something and it flops, it’s OK, because I’m still glad I took the time to sort through my thoughts and take a chance on my ideas. When one purpose fails to satisfy you, it’s likely your other one will.
A writer’s purpose is a combination of a need they must satisfy within themselves and a desire to leave some kind of handprint on the world. Maybe those two things are so closely related that you only have one purpose for writing. Think hard about why you sit down and write – or why you desperately want to, even though, for whatever reason, you can’t. What would your life be like if you didn’t write ever again? How would you feel?
It wasn’t until I created a tagline for Novelty Revisions that I built up enough motivation within myself to put full effort into establishing a blog that mattered. Every morning when I sit down to draft a post for you, I know exactly why I’m doing it. To help you. When you sit down to write anything, and you start to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” you should always have an immediate answer at the ready: “Because xyz.” That may not always be enough to keep you going. But it helps.
Why? is my favorite question. So though I’ve posed the same question to you a few times before, I’ll ask it again: why? Why do you write? Why do you WANT to write? That reason, that purpose, helps break down barriers, dissolve excuses and motivate you to not just think, but do. Lock that purpose into place, and your words will always have significance in one way or another, whether the whole world sees them or not.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.