James R. Callan: Why We Write Books

I have many friends who wonder why I spend so much time writing.  Or why I spend any time writing.

Why do we write?  There are many reasons.  Money. Fame. Fulfillment. Impart knowledge.   Fill a void. Keep a promise. Pass on family history. Therapy. Nothing else to do.  Get the truth in print. The thrill of tracking down a story. The need to write. To make someone laugh. And probably a hundred others.

James R. Callan

Money? Non-fiction does supply many a writer with a decent salary. One can write as a reporter with a regular paycheck. One can, particularly if they have some area of expertise, make money on a non-fiction book. A good inspirational book might make the first time writer a decent return on her time.

But when we’re talking about fiction, only a few make significant money against the time and effort put into the writing. I’m sure some fiction writers start out with that in mind.  Ninety-nine point nine percent don’t achieve that.  While I make money writing, the hourly wage writing provides would not be worthwhile. I could make more money selling rubber bands to a trucking company.

Fame can be as elusive as money.  And even more fleeting.  Warhol said we all get fifteen minutes of fame. Maybe mine will come from something I write. But, I have a better chance to be highlighted on the evening news as the latest lottery winner.

The idea of passing on family history is an excellent reason. This is one reason that many people should write. Family stories and history are often appreciated only when the opportunity to preserve them has passed.  The person who knew those fascinating facts didn’t write them down and now is dead.  Those stories are likely lost forever.

Therapy is another good reason. I know a famous writer who got into writing for exactly this reason.  It worked – on two fronts.  The therapy worked and the world got a plethora of good literature.

We as writers should understand why we write and make sure that reason actually gets fulfill ed as we write. If we write for therapy, we cannot let the pressure or frustrations that sometimes come in writing affect us. We must avoid those by remembering why we are writing. Frustration is not the reason. If we begin to feel pressure, we need to readjust our thinking, back off, change whatever is causing the pressure.

If we write for fame, we need to decide what constitutes “fame” for us.  If it’s to be on national TV as the next great writer, we might want to include some intermediate steps along the way. Perhaps start with getting a good review in the local newspaper. Maybe an invitation to speak at the local Lions Club. Fame covers a wide range. Don’t let the only measure be the most difficult to achieve.

Money? Perhaps start on the non-fiction side. Once you’ve made some money with that phase of your career, then tackle the more elusive money of fiction.

Whatever the reason, take a good look at what is required to satisfy that reason, what milestones there are to measure your success. Think baby steps.

And from time to time, reevaluate your real reasons for writing or continuing to write.  Because, foremost among the reasons for writing should be—enjoyment. Set goals which do not remove that most important reason.

James R. Callan is the author of Cleansed by Fire and Murder a Cappella with Diane Bailey.