“There are many reasons to write. And most of them are bad.” — Tim Denning
Everyone has different reasons for writing.
Some of us write because it’s our job to put words on the page and send them off to our clients. Some of us write because it brings us joy or relieves stress. And still, others write because they are compelled to — they simply can’t help it.
I write because there’s a little voice inside that tells me to. It runs through my head daily, and whispers to me in the dark.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve always listened to it.
For years, I’ve jumped back and forth between different pursuits, trying out new jobs and setting off in a number of different directions.
But as I look back, it becomes clearer that there was something that connected them all, no matter how different they were: writing.
Writing has shown up in different forms throughout my life, from journalistic writing in university, to writing a journal while traveling, to blogging for magazines and my personal blog. Sometimes it’s been more consistent than at other times, when it seems to fade into the background.
But the truth is, it’s never completely gone away — and that’s what tells me I’m meant to do something with it.
No matter where or how I’ve tried to hide from it in the past, how many times I’ve started up again and then quit, or how many different jobs or career paths I try to walk down, writing is always there in the back of my mind, just waiting.
It’s been very patient with me, allowing me to change my mind again and again. It never protests when I unconsciously move away from it (or intentionally run in the opposite direction). It remains quiet and calm but consistent, launching little reminders that it’s still there, until I can’t help but pay attention to it once again.
No matter what I’m doing or where in the world I am, I think of writing often. It always finds a way into my head.
Reading books by authors I love only adds to my daydreaming about writing. When I read a book by someone I respect and admire, I start to imagine what it would be like to write a book as good as theirs someday.
I wonder what it would feel like to be on a bestseller list, and to achieve that kind of success? How would it change my life?
I easily get swept away by the allure of status and fame and fortune, and I start setting writing goals with these things in my sights.
But lately I’ve read a number of articles that have got me thinking differently about these kinds of writing goals.
They’ve got me wondering whether I’m approaching my writing all wrong.
Is “writing a bestseller” or “making x dollars per month writing” actually what matters? Is that why I’m writing? Is that why you’re writing?
If your goals are your only motivation for writing, what happens when you achieve them? Do you just stop?
Imagine you’ve done it. You’re finished! All the things you’ve written down as your goals have come true. Now what?
As Niklas Göke says here:
“Until we reach them, all goals do is exert pressure from afar. Even worse, when we finally do achieve them, they disappear right away — like a baseball in a home run, zipping out of sight.”
Maybe these kind of goals are the wrong thing to strive for. Maybe it’s time to shift your focus.
What if you changed your reason for writing altogether?
Tim Denning wrote an article about the concept of writing to learn, rather than writing to “build an audience.” And I have to say, it hit home.
Instead of writing with the goal of building an audience, becoming famous, making it on the bestseller lists, or making a ton of money, what if you just focused on learning something new, and then sharing what you learned?
“Writing to learn is a great reason to write that will help you put aside vanity metrics and the desire to earn money as your intent.” — Tim Denning
What if writing was just a way to keep learning and growing and adapting to change?
Wouldn’t sharing the lessons along your journey be enough?
My partner and I often talk about the fact that my articles are like a trail of breadcrumbs I’m leaving in the forest.
Each one captures a thought I’m mulling over, a lesson I’m learning, a new idea I’m exploring, or a question I’m pondering. Other times my articles are just little snapshots of what our life was like at that moment in time. But the cool thing is, they’ll always be there for me to go back to and re-learn the lessons I’d once internalized anytime I forget.
The words I write today and the article I end up publishing are like a little piece of the puzzle — a little piece of me.
If they don’t end up reaching millions of people, they are still meaningful to me. They capture my journey through life and the stages of my growth.
And someday, they may even provide some value to our children, if for no other reason than they can learn more about their parents by reading what I’ve documented.
When I look at writing from this perspective, all those other things I’m “striving” for don’t seem to matter so much. In fact, they become a bit hollow, and completely unnecessary.
“Change the reason you want to write and you’ll change the outcome you produce. Choose an empowering meaning for writing and you’ll find a reason to never give up and keep learning in the process.” — Tim Denning
This idea of writing with the sole purpose of learning gives you back the control that you lose when your “success” depends on hitting benchmarks and “building an audience.”
Writing from a place of curiosity, openness, and a genuine desire to keep growing, learning, and sharing what I find is much more appealing to me anyway.
That’s a goal that I can fully commit to.