Why and for whom do we write? — by Peter Grant

Why and for whom do we write? — by Peter Grant

Sounds like a simple question, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a single answer that covers all the bases. For a start, one’s genre has a major effect on why one writes.

  • A non-fiction author writes to convey or impart knowledge in a particular field to those interested in acquiring it.
  • A fiction author writes to entertain, and perhaps to convey an indirect moral or metaphysical message in his prose.
  • An autobiography or memoir seeks to describe a life and what it meant to the person living it – but a biography, written by a third party, might view that same life very differently.

There are many other categories we could use, of course.

Then there’s the question of the author himself. Let me use myself as an example. I write primarily to make a living, as I described here some months ago. In that sense, I’m writing for me and for my wife. Is that a less worthy motivation than writing to please an audience? I don’t think so – I have to write to please my readers, because if I don’t, they won’t be my readers for long and my ‘living’ will die! However, there are doubtless those who will regard my motivation as overly mercenary.

What about a more artistic motive? There are those authors who say they feel compelled to write, to tell a story, to get out into the world the creativity bottled up inside them. I’ve always been ambivalent about such attitudes. I mean, can one really say that ‘50 Shades of Grey’ is in any way creative when it’s basically fanfic, riffing off the creativity of another author in what appears to me to be copycat fashion? On the other hand, writers who create their own new worlds or environments or platforms are genuinely creative, and inspire my admiration.

What about fact versus fiction? Again, to use myself as an example, I try to use my own life experiences as ‘building blocks’ in writing my science fiction. A combat scene I describe might be set in a futuristic milieu, using weapons and technology and surroundings that are all alien to our understanding at present, but the tactics and sequence of events will, whenever possible, be based on one or more encounters where I can legitimately say I’ve “been there and done that”. I think that helps to make my writing more realistic. Am I writing fiction when I’m basically regurgitating what I’ve experienced? I think I am. Others may differ.

What about our inspiration? I don’t do fairy stories very well – I’ve never been one for that sort of thing. On the other hand, I grew up on a diet of fairy stories, and seem to recall enjoying them immensely, pictures and all. Have they served as subliminal inspiration? I loathe most movies, and hardly ever go to the theater or watch one on TV – but some movies have been powerful influences in my life, and even helped me to come to terms with some very painful experiences. Can my writing possibly remain unaffected by such emotional encounters?

I don’t pretend to have the answers to all these questions. I’m still pondering them, and may never come to a fully worked-out understanding of them. Nevertheless, they interest me, and I hope they interest the writers and readers of Mad Genius Club. What do you think? Let us know your views in Comments.






  1. My favorite books are about space travel, new planets, lost colonies, new races, and just good old-fashioned space opera. But when I read these stories there’s always a part of me that wonders what the people on Earth think about it all and how they are reacting. How the heck did Earth mobilize so fast? Didn’t all the different factions have a giant squabble about the need to mobilize? Didn’t equally sensible people take completely different positions?

    My two books (second one coming out this month!) so far are what I think of as ground-based. There’s a whole support structure to get us to space, and my imagination is captured by how that works and would work in response to different situations. As a lawyer, I find it impossible to ignore legal obstacles, but the law just becomes part of the plot, so I guess that’s where I insert my own experience.

  2. I really hate it when you link to your blog; I always end up wasting half the morning reading your old firearms articles. 😉

  3. I’m “compelled” to make up stories in my head. I write them down, edit them, polish them and publish them in a desire to make a living. No point in fooling myself, I’m a daydreamer in search of income.

  4. I am also compelled to make up stories and poems. I have nightmares if I don’t write enough. I hope that someone else will enjoy my writings and maybe even buy them because being a daydreamer with a chronic illness is very expensive. 😉

  5. I’m one of those “I absolutely have to write” kind of people. It’s kind of an addiction for me. I suppose, more than anything, I write for myself. At the same time, I write for my readers, because I like making people happy (or any other emotion, as the case may be). Of course, I also write for my God because I believe that I wouldn’t be able to write at all if it wasn’t for His inspiration.

  6. I started writing so I wouldn’t explode – I needed a safe channel. That tapered off for a while, replaced with writing history and geography because I’d found this neat stuff and wanted to share. Then I got into grad school and had the “channel it or do something memorable but antisocial” problem again. At this point it’s just a bad habit. 😛

      1. I can do battle scenes and non-fic. Probably because with non-fic I’m working from notes and an outline, so the truly creative writing is done. But not fiction and footnotes – writing in the citations numbs too many brain cells. I just want to lay on my back, listen to nice choral music and play dead.

  7. I write because certain ideas/characters are freaking irrepressible and won’t leave me alone until I do. I write as a form of therapy. I have a folder on my computer at home titled Trials and Tribulations where I’ve written about horrible things that I’ve been through just to get the stuff off my chest and not be interrupted by people who think they’re helping. I write to make myself and others laugh and I do, at least according to some people, a pretty decent job of it. One day I will write for publication, and I sort of am now, except for that whole “finishing” thing. I’m not real good at that.

    I write for whoever I can find that is crazy enough to read it when I’m done or I write for myself. It depends on the work. My Trials and Tribulations stuff will never be made public in its current form, although it does certainly influence the rest of my work. For the most part though, I don’t care who reads it as long as somebody does.

  8. I had to develop an almost OCD obsession with making my point to deal with certain communications problems.

    Writing is a way to respond to things at my own pace and on my own time.

    There are probably other reasons why I get unhappy when I spend a lot of time without writing. (Sometimes health or stress makes me unhappy and stops me from writing.)

    Story writing in specific is a special case for me. I learned to do the early stages of processing the raw materials because it is fun. I would not entirely stop doing it, unless I got stuck at an extreme level of depression for the rest of my life or something. I’m still figuring out the last stages of the job. If I don’t make a concentrated effort at practice, I likely will never get much in the way of quality and quantity. On the other side, I might still be able to choose not to learn more creative writing, and live writing only non-fiction. I don’t see wanting to make the latter choice while I’m still reading the sorts of things I do.

    I think fanfic probably can be creative and artistic.

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