Some of us are motivated by routine. We start each day with writing, and all is well. Skip the writing, and something seems off balance, unfinished.
I know some writers called ‘bleeders’ who write very, very slowly. These writers think through the entire story before beginning and test each word before it drops on the page. But those words are nearly perfect, needing little revision. Perhaps you write this way, planning exactly and on all levels how the story should unfold. Perhaps you spend more time agonizing and thinking about what you want to write than you actually spend writing. But you persevere.
Or you may write as I do, sprinting ahead without a plan. I know generally where I want the story to go; I know my characters and some key scenes, but I am surprised along the way. I draft great clumps of text that can be moved and revised and reshaped until my characters and their story come clear. I spend as much time drafting as I do deleting. But I persevere, having finally accepted that how I write works for me. Even so, my writing process remains a draft, subject to revision!
Thinking about HOW we write can sidestep the issue of WHY we write.
I write to bring order to my universe, to work out issues fictionally I do not confront so easily in real life. I write to create the happy ending that escapes so many of us, especially when forces beyond our control create chaos. I write to protest economic and historical change, to learn from the past, to appreciate the efforts we all make to create beauty in some form. Even if no one reads my stories or poems, I would write. For there is satisfaction in seeing well-crafted words on a page, the characters come to life, and the story itself eases something deep within me, something almost unnameable.
I do believe that we each have a unique story to share, that writers, as any artist, bring craft and heart and skill to the process of creating a story. And that we must confront what is hidden in ourselves and in our characters to truly understand our writing. Sometimes we discover what we mean only after we have written.
While we may fall in love with a particular time or place or character, I’ve always thought that we each have unique issues that motivate us to write. We may not realize it consciously: These themes ring through our writing like a great bell. For example, I do not have to be a psychologist to know that my storytelling is informed by issues of loss and abandonment. I am drawn to the happy ending where joy meets joy.
My characters thus undertake a grand quest – to surmount evil, to bring beauty into the world in small ways and large, and to understand through action, what it means to be a moral person, what the costs of personal choice might be, and to celebrate the resilience and strength we all share in spite of differences in class, gender, and circumstance, or human frailty.
Can you identify what underlying themes consistently appear in your writing and why? Knowing what themes you find most compelling may help you work below the surface of the story in those areas that are implied rather than known. Then you will know what essentially inspires you to write and what you must write.
As Morgan Dragonwillow commented recently, “May you find the strength to be who you are, say what you need to say, and dare to write your truth.”
9 thoughts on “What Impels You To Write? by Beth Camp”
Great question about why we write! I have also noticed themes that come through in whatever I write–like truth emerges one way or another, what we think we want often isn’t what we really want, and loving someone isn’t easy but definitely worth it.
Thanks for giving me pause and making me think about the WHY, especially right before I dig into edits today.
I think I write for the same reason I read. I like to be taken away from the real world and into a fictional world where incredible things can happen. And if you’re the writer rather than the reader, you get to decide what happens. It can be anything! You can make up whatever world you want to. You can’t make real people be what you want them to be, but you can with your characters. Well, sometimes. Because, sometimes, your characters go their own way. 🙂
Your entire post is filled with gems, Beth, and so beautifully communicated. I especially enjoyed this section: >> These themes ring through our writing like a great bell. For example, I do not have to be a psychologist to know that my storytelling is informed by issues of loss and abandonment. I am drawn to the happy ending where joy meets joy. <<
I treasure joy meeting joy even amidst loss and abandonment.
It is always a pleasure to read you!
I write for many reasons but mostly I think to find the truth and because I can’t not write. I love your line, “I write to bring order to my universe, to work out issues fictionally I do not confront so easily in real life.” I know that I often write what I have a hard time facing in real life. Thank you for mentioning my quote. When I read your writing I feel like I am seeing into your soul if only a glimpse, thank you.
I used to be a sprinter, putting words to page with little direction… but I could never seem to finish much. So now I’m going to attempt to be a bleeder, and see how that works. I’ve never thought much about the recurring themes. I suppose one of my next challenges is figuring out what kind of writer I am. Great post!
I never write with an overarching theme in mind, but if there is one, it’s that the world is a mix of good and bad people, and that the good guys will win as long as I’m telling the tale.
Sometimes when we “just write” the underlying themes in our work ring more true than they do in those times when we start writing with a goal and careful planning.
The heart knows what it wants; the head often thinks it can go on without the heart, but usually finds out it cannot….
I’ve thought about this before, trying to understand what drew me to certain characters and kinds of writing. Sometimes when I had an inkling of the theme, I tried to deny it–surely I wasn’t that lacking in my life!==but the stories kept coming and coming.
I don’t look so much for those threads anymore; I know they are there, but I also know that my characters aren’t me. It’s a different world… and our common background is more fizzy that it seems.
But then, I’m probably not alone in that.