Why do you write?


The eternal question. (Photo by openpad.)

Some years ago I heard Campbell Award-winning writer Mur Lafferty interview SF writer David Drake on her podcast I Should Be Writing. The topic was motivation, and Lafferty asked Drake why he wrote.

Drake immediately put Lafferty on the spot by asking her the same question. This was interesting for a couple of reasons. First, while the two both write SF, Drake focuses on military settings. Second, the two come from very different generations. Drake is a Vietnam veteran; Lafferty hails from Generation X.

Lafferty said something about always knowing she wanted to be a writer, how much she wanted to publish, how much she liked writing — in short, what most writers would say if put on the spot. But Drake was after something a little deeper.

It’s the same thing Simon Sinek is talking about in this TED Talk. If overly motivational speakers bug you, don’t watch it. The delivery is a bit too precious for my taste. But what Sinek says is that great leaders don’t start with What — they start with Why. You can apply the same idea to get to the root motivation of a company, a social movement, and, I think, even a writer.

David Drake said in his interview that he writes because he has to: It’s his way of dealing with what he saw in Vietnam. That’s his Why.

When we talk about the products of writing — contracts, royalties, seeing your name in print — that’s all the What, not the Why. Figuring out what that thing is will get you to the root of your writing. And I’ve got a hunch that it might also make you a better writer.

What’s my Why? That’s a topic for another post.

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