What Is the Real Purpose of Writing?

I would imagine that nearly every writer has an understanding of why they write. Most of us have been lifelong readers. Most of us have deeply respected and admired those talented people who produce movies in our head with nothing but strategically placed words. On a more personal level, there’s the indescribable sense of flow when the words pour out oh-so-effortlessly, there’s that stroke of brilliance when a plot twist strikes out of nowhere, there’s the feeling of creating something that no one else has before. Every one of those feelings is motivating and rewarding and necessary for our long-term writing mojo.

Writing Requires Commitment and Motivation

But the road to the publication dream is littered with unfinished manuscripts, dejected hearts, and writers wondering if they should turn around and head home. The reality is that success in the writing game is more of a marathon than a sprint, and that sort of motivation tends to wax and wane. But as I was researching my upcoming Grit for Writers book, I discovered that Angela Duckworth, best-selling author of Grit: Why Passion and Perseverance are the Secrets to Success, defines purpose a little differently. She frames purpose as ‘the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.’

Writing is all about Connecting with Others

 If that mission statement doesn’t apply to writing, I don’t know what does. Sure, writing is about creating something unique, our own slice of the impossible and extraordinary. But the short stories, the poems, the self-help books, the scary, moving, funny, touching fiction we put out there is actually for the reader (otherwise we’d be happy for them to remain in our computers). Ultimately, we create them to entertain, to inspire, to provoke what-ifs, to elicit emotions, to broaden horizons, to challenge perspectives. That drive is about touching others.

We’re Wired to Want to Connect

 This desire to connect is actually been programmed into our DNA. Evolution’s job was to make sure we survived, and humans haven’t just survived, we’ve thrived. Evolution achieved this by making survival-enhancing behaviors pleasurable. If our ancestors hadn’t had a hankering for food and sex, I wouldn’t have written this post, and you wouldn’t be here to read it.

And just like our drive for these essential-to-survival needs have been deeply wired into our programming, so did seeking meaning and purpose. Why? Because the drive to connect also enhances our survival. Evolution discovered that humans who connect were more likely to survive than the loners (much to the dismay of my hermit tendencies). Communities kept us fed, built us shelters, gave us sanitation and electricity and printing presses. So if fellow humans help us survive and thrive, we need to want to be with fellow humans and connect with them.

Purpose is the Foundation of Your Motivation

This is why we aren’t content to let our manuscripts collect virtual dust on our computers. Why else do we reach out to our favorite authors to let them know how their book touched us? It’s also why positive feedback or reviews are just as good as chocolate (believe me, it’s significant that I wrote that).

It’s not surprising that research has shown that having purpose allows you to be persistent in your goals and resilient when you experience setbacks. It’s because you feel inspired by something bigger than yourself. When you acknowledge that your writing contributes to others, in a magnificently diverse and deeply unique way, you appreciate the value of what you do. Once you articulate this, you’ll discover that purpose is the foundation for your passion to write.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do you write?
  • How will your writing contribute to others?

Purpose is the Foundation of your Message

Now that we’ve articulated why we write, I’d encourage to think a little deeper. Writing gives something to our readers. Something unique. Something straight from you. This is the part that you can use to fine tune the story you’re writing right now. Ask yourself; what’s the message, opinion, or world-view that you’re trying to convey? Maybe you want to share stories of human triumph or raise existential questions, maybe you want to warn of the harsh realities of human nature. That value or statement is what will shine through your story. Ultimately, readers won’t remember the details of your brilliant prose or clever metaphors (although they’re pretty useful to get them to read to the end), they will remember what they learned. Just like I’ll always remember The Fault in Our Stars because it made me think of how we touch others before we die, or The Little Prince because it had me reflecting on how close-minded we adults are, your theme or message will be tied in with your purpose

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the theme or message of your current manuscript? How does it tie in with why writing is important to you?
  • Imagine yourself in fifteen years from now. What do you want readers to remember you for?

I encourage every writer to identify how their writing is personally rewarding, but at the same time, is connected to the well-being of others. What’s awesome is that this process will have a twofold benefit. You’ll articulate the message of your book, which gives the reader a gift to take with them long after they finished your story (and keeps your plot focused). But whilst you’re tapping out the thousands of words needed to get there, purpose will be the source of your motivation tomorrow, next month, and when we’re both lamenting how much fan mail is in our inbox 😉

I’d love to hear your perspectives. The diversity of the writing community is one of its many strengths.

What is your purpose? Does keeping this in mind help you in the marathon of writing success? How does it connect to the theme or message in your book?

Tamar Sloan is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Tamar is also an award-winning author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. You can checkout Tamar’s books on her author website.

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16 Responses to What Is the Real Purpose of Writing?

  1. Jennie Nash says:

    This is so smart! So true! So important for all writers to hear! I love this piece, Tamar!

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  3. Peter Lewis Holmes says:

    I write because it makes me feel good and fills me with life purpose……without writing I would just eat, shit and watch movies.

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  5. I write to entertain. My stories vary from medieval society to biblical times and everything in between. I hope to show that we need each other in this life. I want to show light in the darkness. Hope is my message even in the worst of circumstances.

  6. Thanks for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Tamar. My purpose in writing is to tell stories I hope others will want to read. It is about creating art–taking an idea or inspiration and turning it into a story or an essay. As I grow older the importance of writing down my memories and stories becomes more important, and I value generations who have gone before me who have done just that.

    • Tamar Sloan says:

      Hi Donna, I think preserving and treasuring our personal history is a beautiful purpose for writing – it allows us to share what we’ve learned with others. Good on you 🙂

  7. Jay Hicks says:

    Lovely to see you here Tamar! I always have trouble trying to come up with my story theme (because my draft novel began as a short story and has grown backwards in scenes). It’s about a family history, with a range of themes. I guess they all are about making do, and battlers making the best of whatever life deals them. Why do I write this? Because my main character won’t leave me alone, and because I sometimes make myself cry, or gasp, or laugh when I read back on some scenes. Reacting to the story as a reader might is a wonderful encouragement.

    • Tamar Sloan says:

      Hey Jay! It sounds like your message is all about perseverance, even when its tough. And I totally agree, wanting our readers to react with such emotion to our stories is a powerful part of what we write. Keep it up!

  8. So glad you’ve joined the team, Tamar!

  9. JOHN T. SHEA says:

    Fun, adventure, spectacle, escapism, cool places and machines, a little satire and irony, even a sprinkling of politics and philosophy and religion. Those are the themes that spring to mind when I think of my WIP. It’s funny but not a comedy, violent but rarely gruesome.

    And yes, writing is paradoxically a very solitary means of producing a very social work of art and entertainment. I hope children of all ages enjoy my tale.

    • Tamar Sloan says:

      It sounds like you’re trying to provide those experiences to children (of all ages) John, that’s really admirable. My guess is that your writing also gets people thinking or looking at things from a different perspective, and that’s a talent.

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