Wrong Reasons for Writing

BukowskiA few posts ago I shared my thoughts on reasons to keep writing. On the flip side, there are several motivations for writing that just don’t hold water. They might keep you going for a while, but in the end they’ll spring a leak and go dead flat.

Proving Worthiness. I will here admit that as a young man I felt inferior to most other people and wanted to prove that I was worthy to walk the earth. When I found I had some talent as a writer (a debatable proposition, I’ll grant you), I adopted that as one means by which I might climb the mountain of human acceptability. It failed miserably because when my writing failed, as it did at one point, so did I. Eventually, I made (or was granted) the fortunate discovery that as a child of God or, to say it another way, an integral part of interdependent being, I was worthy just as I was. Some years after letting that discovery take root and bear fruit, I am writing just what I want to and not worried about proving a thing (at least I can say this of my better self). Don’t look to writing or any other talent or achievement to fill the void of an inferiority complex. Only love and wisdom can do that, so make those your first priorities.

You Should. Some people are good at writing, which is great. What’s not so great is that sometimes people who are good at something feel obligated to do it, even if they don’t like it that much. That’s a trap and a ticket to misery. You’re a lot more than your talents. Your being is comprised of preferences, personality quirks, learnings and a thousand other things in addition to your talents. Your obligation is to do your best, do good and do no harm. That’s it. I have a wonderful and wise young nephew who scored higher on the “verbal” portion of his college entrance exams than on the “math” portion (although his scores on both were high). When an elder suggested he look into some kind of writing profession, he replied that, while he was proficient at it, he just didn’t like writing that much. He studied Management Information Systems instead and is very happy. Take that writing “should,” and all your other “shoulds,” for that matter, and throw them on the ash heap of unhappy notions. Then do what you like.

Fame. If you’re writing because you want to be famous, you’re taking a real long shot. To be famous, you’d have to make outrageous sales, and that’s hard to do, to say the least. And even if you do move the units, there are plenty of writers out there with big sales that still don’t get recognized at the gym or put on the cover of tabloids. Who needs fame, anyway? Do you really want stalkers? Paparazzi? Increased risk of IRS audits? And say you do get famous, then what do you do? Having achieved that goal you’ll be left with just your writing, and if that’s not enough, your career is done and along with it your fame.

Money. I like money just as much as the next person, but writing for the gain of it is a killer. I tried to do it once, a few years ago. I looked at what seemed to be selling best, read some of it, read some instructive tomes and then tried to write something easily salable. The result was wooden writing and an unhappy writer. Ultimately, I stopped writing fiction altogether. Writing for money cramps your creativity and it might not work anyway.

Specialness. This is a little like fame but at a more personal level. You’re writing to be cool, so you can say at cocktail parties “I’m a writer,” or so you can look down just a little from your elevated position as Observer of the Human Condition. Sooner or later you’re going to realize that many people are better writers and observers than you, and not only that, but nobody but your mother perhaps one or two other people thinks you’re so special, even if you do write. Then you’ll be stuck in the muck with the rest of us ordinary humans.

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