Why are you doing what you’re doing? What makes you want to write, read, quilt, clean house, whatever it is that takes your time? Leo Rosten said, “The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it.” That’s a cynical view that implies there has to be something wrong with you if that’s what you want to do.
I’ve run across a few things in the past few months about why we do the things we do. Gary Frank wrote a blog positing that a writer’s latest novel was completely destroyed and asking why it was important to write it in the first place. Simon Shenk wrote a book about Why, and he has a TED talk on the subject as well.
With some writers, their why permeates their what — my friend Valerie Comer writes about “eternal values and simple living,” two things very close to her heart, in both her fiction and her blogging. For others, it might not be so obvious — was Larry Niven trying to say anything but “Hey, this is a cool idea,” when he wrote Ringworld? Simon Shenk says everyone should start with why when talking to other people about what they do, but I don’t think that’s true.
What I do think is true is that people need to look at why what they’re doing matters to them. Is it the chance for freedom from a desk job? Is it because the stories in their heads won’t be quiet? Is there an art work they’ve visualized since they were pre-teens that needs to be shown to the world? Is it to showcase marginalized voices? Is it because you’d like to share something with others? There are at least as many reasons as there are people to have reasons.
When you really know why you’re doing what you’re doing, it might become easier to actually do it. “Begin with the end in mind.” If I, for example, imagine a shelf full of my books at the local library, I know that I have to sit down and write if that’s going to become a reality. That becomes what I design my system around — following the motivation, meeting the goal, fulfilling my why.
Not that my why is a single, simple idea. Do I want to be read? Do I want to see my books on a shelf? Do I want to earn a living at this? Yes, to all of those. But I also love the feeling when someone gets what I’ve written. I love people telling me they like what I’ve created. And my writing is a way for me to try to bring a little more hope and love into the world, even when that’s not obviously what I’m writing about. This is me, trying to make a difference that reaches beyond my immediate time and place.
Have you thought about your why?