Why Do You Write?

Al Grauniad doesn’t only serve up steaming platters of complete filth, despite the taint of noted monger-of-same Damien “I can’t be arsed to quote real people” Walter. I know, I know: I was stunned, too. But it’s true, at least for a given value thereof (it’s an excerpt from a forward of a larger work. Apparently, the Guardian just has trouble getting original work worked up just for them.) At the above link, Gentleman-Resembling-Dreams and noted Speaker to Nerds Neil Gaiman remembers an episode in which he and his friend and fellow writer Sir Pterry Pratchett made a choice in their manner of transportation between two locations of their book tour (I did mention these two are generally considered superstars when it comes to the relatively small pond of literary (meaning here the written word, not the genre thereof (Ed. Note: Get OFF the nested parentheses! That way lies madness and a direct portal to the Dungeon Dimensions!)) achievement) for Good Omens. A simple choice that should have had them arrive at the next stop refreshed and invigorated. Instead, they were late. Very late. The upshot was that MorpheusNeil Gaiman learned just a bit about what motivates Sir Pterry, and how most people never see it.

I’ve been pondering motivation for, well, most of my natural life, really. So it’s not that the above link showed its face in my feed in anything like timeliness (except that I did need something to spark today’s post), so much as it churned the salty, sticky chum of my thoughts such that some choice chunks rose to the surface in time for you to share in. Aren’t you pleased? I know I am. The confluence of multiple trains of thought (if I’m not careful, I’ll end up with a mess, trains being what they are) arrives at a time when I’m trying very hard to figure out how to go on being a writer, at least in the short term. Like the next couple of decades.

You see, I’m the primary sitter on of my young heir-apparent, Wee Dave. Mrs. Dave is on active duty with the military, and her obligations require she spend a goodly portion of the day not with Wee Dave. It is my privilege (he says with teeth clenched) to take on the mantle of Baby Wrangler, the hat of the Feeder of the Bottomless Maw, and the mask of the Bringer of Fun. These new positions bring with them a goodly bit of honor, prestige and no-pay, and have an interesting and curious manner of DEVOURING ALL MY WRITING TIME (*pant, pant*). Now, our spawnling is a usually delightful specimen of larval humanity, and we have high hopes of unleashing him upon the unsuspecting masses sometime in the future. For now, however, he requires ever-increasing levels of supervision.

Digression: Wee Dave is rolling over now. Front to back, and back to front. He’s nearly to the point where he’ll roll over and over. The trouble, at least from his perspective, is that he dearly wants – nay, Daddy, he NEEDS – to then achieve a respectable degree of forward progress upon presenting his dorsal surface to the heavens. And he can’t. The dear mite hasn’t yet the coordination or muscular strength to convey himself from this place to that by the motion of his own limbs. And this is WRONG and it is EVIL, Daddy, and it’s an Abomination Unto Nuggan, and he’d like you to share in his pain. Or at least so I surmise from the shrill wails he produces. You know the ones I mean: the ones that bypass the ears and go straight for the panic centers of Daddy’s brain. End Digression.

Even when Wee Dave takes his afternoon siesta (by no means a clock-setting evolution, though such occurs at least once a day, thank Ghu) I am not guaranteed to get time to write. Strangely enough, there are other things to do. Washing, it seems, happens a lot. Of dishes, clothes, and my filthy corporeality, among other things. Bills require payment, carpets need cleaning, and the mountains of stuff that seem to occur by spontaneous generation desperately want cutting back, whether that happens with a machete or a flamethrower.

And, as seems to be customary among those young to parenting, I’ve been questioning my reality. Do I really want to write? Is telling silly stories dragged kicking and screaming (if you do it right, they just whimper and feebly bat at the chains) out of my imagination really that important to me? It turns out that, yeah, it kinda is. Or at least, I get unlivable with when I don’t write, which is kind of the same thing. Mrs. Dave says I’m not allowed to stop, so I guess that’s a good thing?

For me, at least, though I won’t begin to speculate about you, dear reader, I still need to have my motivations securely in place, otherwise nothing gets done. I am doing this for the money, the green, the filthy lucre, but I’m early on enough that I can barely buy beer and skittles with the proceeds. So there’s motivation. But profit is a long, long way off yet, and in order to keep doing this thing I think I love and know I need to keep doing to stay me, I’ve needed to work out a driving force. For Sir Pterry it is the deep well of his boundless anger. I’m not sure what mine is, yet.

And so I find myself arises well before the crack of dawn each day, and wending my way down to my office (no, really, I’ve got a room Just For Writing. And storing Even More Stuff, natch) where I attempt to put words on page. It’s too early to tell if writing before the Boy-Creature awakens in his awful glory will suffice. Today, I’m writing this post. Who can tell if I’ll get time to do fiction, which is the “important” writing. But that’s why – and now how – I’m writing. What drives your writing? What for, do you do that voodoo for, that you do so well?

Addendum: there’s an interesting series of strips going down over at Least I Could Do (that starts here) that I’m following with some interest. It occurs that many of my fellow Mad Ones might share said interest.


  1. I started writing because I was bored. Well, sort of. I had run out of things to read, and decided I would try creating my own. And then I discovered that I *needed* to write. That took me about a decade of trying to quit before I gave in and explored the concept of publishing. Now, I have more than enough to read, no time to write, and have been tantalized by making money with my work. I can’t quit now, I have too many stories to tell!

    As for writing with a baby, I was able to after a while, but it’s rough at first. You will have to learn how to write in the interstices of time, when you have stolen moments. Good luck, and don’t forget to enjoy the awesomeness that is a baby.

    1. “As for writing with a baby, I was able to after a while, but it’s rough at first. You will have to learn how to write in the interstices of time, when you have stolen moments.”

      I’m sorry, Cedar, but I burst out laughing when I read this. I can just imagine the dialog:

      GYNECOLOGIST: “Push! One more push!”

      CEDAR: “No! Wait! I’m at a critical plot point!”


      1. LOL! That made me laugh, too. Funny thing is, I had the first three at home, so had there been a notebook handy and I was so inclined… which I wasn’t. Labor is tiring and not conducive to mental quickness.

        1. Mrs. Dave cracked wise with the nurses right up until she was allowed to push (her story, and I’m not going into detail sans express authorization). Her mother and I weren’t allowed to, but she did. Tough wife is tough. For the possibilityh of plotting stories in labor, we might ask Sarah to relate her experience. The first time, at least.

  2. I’ve always enjoyed stories. I’ve played in other people’s worlds, and now I’ll enjoy creating my own, which other folks seem to enjoy. I think I might have struck a balance of sorts on worldbuilding (without creating a huge AD&D like tome for myself to refer to) without ending up with more world than story or characters. I tended to get really into worldbuilding, but sometimes I ended up not being sure what I wanted to do with that pretty world I’d built.

    Going with story and characters first, then worldbuilding after seems to have broken that lock.

    1. That’s basically what I do, as well. I’ve actually got three different stories started in one world that’s grown more or less organically during the writing. Each new thing I have to think of adds to the world, and I just note it down somewhere. As far as story/worldbuilding bibles, I know many people use a form of wiki to keep track of everything. Others just make notes in a separate file. Scrivener allows you to do that second in a way that keeps it with the main story, more or less. I’d love to make the wiki thing happen, but I’m thus far too lazybusy to take the time to figure that out.

      1. Yeaaaah, I thought about Scrivener, but it boils down to really keeping track of stuff and making notes. I walk around with a notepad and pen so I can write down spontaneous concepts. Even if it’s just like ‘druid – animal magic’ – and then try to figure out what I meant by that rather cryptic notation later.

        Kevin J. Anderson’s little ebook was a help in that – my brain seems to work much in the same way, so his tips were a nice organizational thing for me. Not all of them, but a number of them.

  3. Laughed my head off at the baby problem. Oh, do I remember that time. The key rule is NEVER SIT DOWN. ‘Cause that’s when you fall asleep, and contrary to the power nap theory, it never leaves you refreshed, but only more tired.

    The kids in my home are considerably older, but still time-consuming (plus job). I’m finding that I must snatch writing time in these 10 – 30 minute windowlets (is too a word!) of space in my days. It seems to be working, albeit slowly.

    Motivation? Mostly that my characters keep insisting on coming up with new ways to give themselves angst. Or peril.

    1. I think I recall that post.


      Yes, I do recall it. Another part of my motivation is that I seem constitutionally incapable of dealing with most jobs without … distinct unpleasantness. I’m still surprised I lasted through my naval hitch, given the mind numbing foolishness that happened on a day-to-day basis. Here, I can write – some of the time – and practice modern alchemy, build things with my hands, and mold the next generation of maniacal warlordsbright-eyed, young citizenry, and all I have to do is everything Mrs. Dave doesn’t want to do. It’s not bad work, if you can get it…

  4. I write because it comes naturally to me and I love to tell stories, either re-telling ones which really happened, or the ones that I make up from daydreams in my head.

    And also – a good few years ago now, I began to have a feeling that stories were important to our American culture – our human culture – and we would have to know them, or even learn them anew and fresh, even to the point of wrangling our history away from the cold, clammy claws of Zinnified professional historians.

    We have to get our history back, and know that our actual and metaphorical American ancestors were in the main, decent and honest people, and that the American experiment in self-government was a breathtakingly daring one.

    1. They had to have been largely good and freedom loving. Else they would have lost some of the struggles with the forces of evil that we know they won, or at least took into over time. Even then, some of the players for team evil had some good instincts that they over rode by lying to themselves.

  5. I was well past the new mom stage when those strange people on Baen’s Bar made me realize that writers didn’t have some aura of glowing godhood around them, and that in fact _anyone_ could write and sell stories. So I started putting the stories in my head down on paper.

    But despite the lack of infants, I found small children very disruptive. I learned how to hold the strings of a scene in my head while responding to demands for attention/food/drink/bandaging and getting right back into it for the next five minute interlude of peace. To say I wandered around like a sleepwalking airhead is probably too generous.

    However, the habit of writing is as easy to fall into as it is to fall out of. Pay attention to when your brain is best able to write–anytime after 3PM for me–and focus on working in a slice of writing time then. And remember: 300 words a day= a novel a year.

    1. I need to remember that last. I just wrote it on my office white board. Goes well with, “write the next sentence,” and “turn off the wifi if you’re writing,” and “if you’re NOT writing, don’t pretend to be writing.” Like I put in the post, I’m making an hour or two in the morning happen, while the Pintsized Tyrant is still asleep. Only a couple days in, but it has promise.

    1. ^ This.

      I have the same problem, usually when I am trying to get to sleep. -sigh-

      Now, if I can just get disciplined enough to ‘make’ the time to get those voices down on paper.

        1. Me: “aaaaah… getting niiiice and comfortable, snuggled into bed and hubby… drifting off to sleep…” *closes eyes*

          Brain: Hey, have a nearly complete novel plot, hon.

          Me: *eyes snap open* “Damnit.

          Rhys: *rolls over so I can turn on the light without blinding him* “Don’t stay up too late, love.”

          Me: *scribbling down plot notes, ideas, world concepts* *grumble* “Brain, why don’t you give me the EVERYTHING instead, during the daylight hours?!”

          Brain: “Because you’re a fourth generation insomniac and I’m your brain.”

          *snarl, grumble, mutter… keeps writing*

          1. You get whole plots? I just get the weirdest things ever. Mind you I just love the weird world I got that way, but I have to figure out the problem and the bad guy . . . ::whine::

            1. I get… something like 75-85% of a plot, when it’s really really determined to do it like that (I have plots for something like book 7 or 8, book 13-14, and 15-16. Plots for the EARLIER books? “They’ll come along.” arrrrrgh. There’ll be parts missing too. Like ‘Who’s the murderer and what’s the motive?” Or, in one case, how the bad guy is supposed to be defeated by the team of good guys.

              Other times I’ll get snatches of conversation, a paragraph or two of scene that has the feel of “This goes into book 9 of THIS series.” Forget ‘orderly.’ My brain is currently crammed with at least three series worth of world and characters, happily conversing with each other. Makes me wish I could attach a cable to the brain and copy the info out.

              1. I get these incredible, vivid scenes. Or rather the starts of the scenes. I know who (or what!) is there, I know all about them, I see the colors, feel the air . . . something is going to happen . . .

                And there I am, crawling out of bed at 2AM, firing up the computer to write about the desert, the dust storm between the mesas, my Dad, the FBI Inspector, the bouncing, talking animated basketballs with the face of famous people on them . . . Did I mention weird?

  6. Quick note:

    there’s an interesting series of strips going down over at Least I Could Do (that starts here)

    The “here” link is missing a URL, so I don’t know where the series begins. Any chance of re-posting it? ‘Twould be much appreciated.

    1. I stopped reading LICD right after he posted that “While everyone is away at SDCC” thing and basically called anyone who doesn’t believe in Global Warming a shithead.

  7. I wrote to escape. Most of those efforts got burned twenty years ago, but their ghosts lingered so when I started again in grad school, the traces remained. I’d been writing aviation stories, some of which got published (to my surprise), and some friends encouraged my science fiction. I stole time from dissertations and other things, because if I didn’t, I’d probably have done something enjoyable but memorably anti-social.

    Now I write because the characters won’t leave me alone. [Yes, you István Eszterházy, and you in the shadows back there, Archduke Rudolph Habsburg.] Normal people do not have scenes writing themselves while trying to listen to a tour guide. Especially not scenes from the wrong book. [István, I am NOT writing the second book first! Stop that!]

  8. Why do I write? Because if I get a really good scene in my head, it won’t go away until I do, and I’ll just be mentally kneading and adding to it and I can’t get on to the next thing until I do.

    Annoyingly, these scenes don’t come in the same order as they would go in a story. I’m going to have to give up on the idea of writing linearly if I’m going to get anywhere.

  9. I write to see what happens next. I seem to be a pantser. Even when I know the ending, I only have a little ways ahead clear, and I don’t figure out what else happens until I write the part I know.

    More seriously, although the above is true, I write because I like to think about how we are getting to space, how settlement could happen, and because I like to see people at least trying to get things right.

  10. I started writing because I was reading a paperback that I couldn’t lightly toss aside. (I hurled it with great force.) And I said, “I can write better than this jackass!”

    And a little voice inside my head said, “Prove it, a******.”

    I’ve been trying to do that ever since.

  11. Not to worry, it is totally possible to touch type one handed. I’m doing it right now. Also once WeeDave has achieved mobility the one screaming in frustration will be you, not he, as he unplugs the cord from the back of your computer or bites through the mouse cable. Beware also of drinks within such a distance that they may be overturned onto keyboards, and I feel it is necessary that you be warned that a well aimed bottle nipple in an experienced infant’s hand can achieve significant range and sippy cups can release large amounts of liquid when vigorously shaken upside down.
    And now it is time to go change a diaper.

  12. “I get unlivable with when I don’t write”

    DH is on notice: I am a horrid person when I don’t get my writing in. It’s an addiction – and it costs nothing and doesn’t destroy your brain in the process. Well, not any more than watching TV.

    The biggest problem is when life hands you things as you go along (a la Wee Dave) that keep you from either having the time (job, kid), or from actually being physically and mentally able to write (chronic illness).

    But if you must write, you will – but it won’t be easy. It isn’t easy to get drugs, either. Though I wish they’d find some that help.

    And if you can’t write now, you’ll have a nice backlog when you can. Unfortunately, turning into a writer is a one-way trip.

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