Mailbag: Ask Yourself Why You Write

This week I’m responding to reader’s comments about a post I wrote entitled Ask Yourself Why You Write. In that post, I described how my professor often started workshop discussions by asking questions about why we were reading that story and whether it could be counted as anyone’s favorite story of all time. That was one of the reasons I write, I’m sure; sometimes I feel very distinctly that I’m writing a story, trying to make it someone’s favorite story. Readers also shared their feelings about why they write. Pedritter said:

On many ocassions there is no clear goal, at first. You write sentence after sentence until a first draft is finished. And then, once the draft is not that hot, you read it again to discover the hidden goal.
Once you have grasped the goal you were after, it is the moment to rewrite it again to make it as explicit as possible.
However this is not my idea but Stephen king’s

Thanks for sharing this, Pedritter. I think this is a really great point (so thank you, also, to Stephen King). This makes very clear how you can write the first draft with nothing but a sense of urgency, and try to find the meaning and purpose afterward. Don’t write with the answer in mind; write with the question that needs to be answered.

Tracey said:

Great advice. Often I just write not knowing where my story is going, and than when I look back at what I write…sometimes there is no purpose. If I analysis the story once I am done, I can probably guide it better into stating a purpose, theme, or point I want to convey to the readers.

Thanks, Tracey! Sometimes a beautifully written story can still feel empty to us because it is lacking that urgency that purpose gives it. Try and force a purpose onto it, however, and you’ll get something that is dry and formulaic. It does seem to be a very organic process of discovery rather than mapping out a plan.

Finally, Elemarth leaves us with an unanswered question:

I can answer that question easily. But is there a such thing as knowing your purpose too well?

Thanks for raising that important question, Elemarth. Definitely, I think having too cemented an idea of your story will prevent it from changing and becoming a dynamic piece. But what do you think, readers?

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