By Ellen Buikema
The road to writing is rocky. What motivates people to write their stories and endure the long journey required to send those book-babies out into the world?
Many people have a book in them to write. Thoughts traverse the mind, nudging to get written. Sometimes those words find their way to paper or screen. Other times the desire to write is a fleeting whim that goes nowhere.
I recently discussed my love of bicycles and realized how my desire to ride fueled an important character trait of mine. It was the very trait that fires my need to tell a story.
My Own Writing Journey (aka the Value of Stubbornness)
When I was about eight years old, I asked for a bicycle—a plain old or new two-wheeler. I didn’t care what it looked like or whether or not it had a bell or basket. I just wanted the freedom to get out and about.
My request received a weird answer. “Sorry, Elle. If I buy you a bike and God forbid you get hurt, I’d never forgive myself.” (Apparently, if someone else bought the bike then any injuries didn’t matter.)
A few months later a much older cousin donated his two-wheeler to me.
I beheld the behemoth with a mixture of joy and fear. The heavy, twenty-eight-inch rust-brown and tan Schwinn was way too big for my tiny self. I had to learn to ride standing up because when I sat on the seat, even when it was at the lowest possible setting, my feet dangled far above the pedals.
After many scraped knees and elbows, I finally learned to balance on my super-sized bike and rode happily up and down our street.
Then came the horrible news. If I wanted to ride, I had to keep my bike in the basement and push it up the steps to use it. I begged to keep it outside. “No. We’re too close to Harlem Avenue. Someone will steal it and you’ll have nothing to ride.”
The Nightmare Basement
Our basement was the setting for many of my childhood nightmares. Dark, dreary, and DARK, it was a creature unto itself.
But I really, really wanted to ride this bicycle. My previously untested stubbornness kicked in.
Since the adults weren’t being helpful, I would help myself. I never weighed the bike but I’m fairly certain that I only outweighed the Schwinn by fifteen or so pounds. In order to lift the bike up the first few stairs, I had to use momentum. Then, through a combination of pushing, slipping backward, and pushing some more, I finally extricated my beloved bike from the basement of horrors and wheeled it out into the light.
Those hours of freedom riding that bike justified every scrape and sniffle.
What does this have to do with writing?
That stubborn want is how I feel about writing. Getting that story out of my mind and into the hearts of others is worth every emotional scrape - and sometimes very real tears. My heavy glaze of pure stubbornness has been a tremendous help in my writing.
Why do you write?
This answer is different for everyone, but here are the most common Top Three motivations:
Some writers love the writing process, enjoying the work involved in perfecting their poetry or prose. For them, it may be the writing journey that matters more than the end.
Beating the competition, gathering prizes, standing out from the crowd, and high sales ratings can be highly motivating.
Impact On Others
Great satisfaction may be gained from inspiring others through writing. It’s a way to leave your mark on the world.
What can hold us back from writing?
This is the dark side of the writing life - those internal fears and voices in our head that hold us back. Here are the three most common demons:
If it isn’t perfect, I can’t let it go.
Write. Revise. Write. Revise. This can become a cycle that won’t end because the writing "isn’t good enough." This has happened to me with writing and painting. I wrecked a lovely head of hair (done in oils) because I kept playing with it. Thankfully, oils are very forgiving. So is the writing page.
Being Overly critical
If my world-building isn’t as good as J.R.R. Tolkien, why bother?
Setting sky-high goals is self-defeating. Great world-building doesn’t happen in a few days, or a few years. Mr. Tolkien worked on The Hobbit for at least six years, and thought about it a good deal before setting pen to paper.
I have to get this book out there as soon as possible.
A fantastic book cover will get you part of the way there but it’s what’s inside the covers that counts. Editing your own work is important, and so is getting other eyes on your work. Multiple revisions are normal and to be expected. Fine editing makes the difference between good and great.
Here is a link to 52 quotes to help you stay motivated and keep writing. I'll leave you with my favorite ones.
"You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have."
"You write because you need to write, or because you hope someone will listen, or because writing will mend something broken inside you or bring something back to life."
Why do YOU write? What motivates you? Is there something that occurred in your life that you see as a turning point in your writing journey? We hope you can share it with us down in the comments!
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents, Parenting: A Work in Progress, and The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon, a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are: The Hobo Code (YA historical fiction) and Crystal Memories (YA fantasy).