Why would anyone be a writer?
It’s an incredibly solitary profession—one not known for bringing a great amount of fame and fortune. Not in the same way that a movie star, rock star, or sports all-star experiences it. Nor does it get you the ladies, unless you are some kind of Hemingway (and most writers aren’t looking for the kinds of floozies he collected).
Realizing this, it becomes only natural to ask what benefit comes of being a writer. Because you’re going to ask yourself that question if you set out to actually commit an act of writing.
What, in a word, is your “motivation”?
The Joy of Being Read
A number of justifications have been given for writing, including money, a desire to connect with people, a creative lust for shaping ideas into words, and showing off one’s chops.
But no matter what you call it, all reasons for becoming a writer boil down to wanting to be read.
If people are consistently reading your stuff, your morale is high. And if you are being ignored, then your spirit sinks. If you’re raking in the money but not being read, you will not be satisfied. If you get invited to fancy parties where no one has read your book, you will get no benefit from them except for free food (which might still make them worthwhile).
But, like with any condensed broth, the joy of being read can be boiled down even further, into a bouillon cube of dense motivation.
The Need to be Heard
Everyone reading this has been given a stunning opportunity. Unlike most humans throughout all of history, you are alive during a time when there are more than 7 billion people in the world. And a time when every one of them can talk to all the others at the same time.
More than any previous generation of humans, you can appreciate the futility of trying to make a public statement. Never before has speaking to anyone been more like screaming into the void.
But certain writers—the ones with reputations—get to be heard. Lots of people know what they think on one topic or another. Sometimes, billions of people are listening.
Making an impact is something that almost anyone could wish for. Yet even that is driven by a more purer motivation. Because our need to be heard comes from somewhere even deeper.
The Fear of Being Insignificant
When many people hear your voice or read your words, you take that as proof that you, as a person, have meaning.
It’s not a rational belief. Being heard, or even repeated, does not make you more valuable. If it could, then all you would need to feel validated is a parrot. People can read your book all day without you being a good person, or someone who has special insight into the nature of reality, or even someone who would not be better off dropping dead at this moment.
Nevertheless, it is driven by a primal need to NOT be insignificant. Because, for a human, insignificance is worse than death. If your death is worse than your life, then that means your life meant something. But if your life and your death are roughly the same, you come face to face with the existential dread suggesting that you would have been better off not existing.
Some people say it’s arrogant to want to be famous. To want to be admired. Or to be more valuable than other people.
But what is the alternative?
Is it honestly better to be so ordinary that you could replaced by any other person without making a difference in the universe? To be so unknown that even if you had an impact, your role in it would go unnoticed? To be someone who didn’t matter, because you blended so well with all the other dust grains sifting about the world?
Keeping pace with everyone else means losing your identity. The only way to be someone is to pull ahead, to separate yourself from the infinite them. That is why you want proof that you are significant, which is why you require numbers of people greater than yourself to hear your voice. And that, ultimately, is what gives the joy of being read.
You Write for Yourself
When, one day, you lay down your pen for the last time, you want to see that you injected yourself into the world. If a piece of you remains for all to behold, even long after you died, then the universe did not escape you unchanged. It owes its current form to the mark that you placed on it.
The purpose of readers is to offer testimony and evidence of this relationship between you and the universe. You hope to have readers, of course, but you write as a way of self-actualizing, regardless of how anyone else feels about you.
I look forward to being read. That’s the only reason why a writer would ever put up with the effort and hassle of getting traditionally published. It can’t be about the money, because there are so many better ways to make money. And it can’t be about the fame, because there are so many easier ways to get famous.
Writing is necessarily an act of self-creation. And while other avenues can serve that purpose, writing scratches the existential itch in a particular way that can be found nowhere else
As a writer, you will mean something, so you might as well pour your all into your writing.
The universe will settle for nothing less.
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