Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 5

Welcome to week 5 of Practical Meerkat.  Despite a week that included a broken finger (don’t try this at home, kids) and the demolition of my bathroom (such fun!) I am here only a little bit late, to talk about Why We Write, and why it matters (or does it?).

There is a theory, popular among many, that says that writers are writers because they have to write, driven to it by irresistible urges (not, interestingly enough, unlike the claims made by some serial killers.  Hrm).  That may be true.  And yet…  It may not.

Some people write to ease the pressure of the stories in their heads.  Some people write because they love the flow of words, the interplay and possibilities of meanings.  Some people write to instruct, or to f*ck with people’s expectations or assumptions.  And some people write because they love the feeling of having written*.

In truth, most of us write for a combination of all the above reasons.  Is one of them the “right” reason? No.  Does one (or several) of them create a “better” book?

Well… maybe.  I am strongly of the storyteller class; I think that the drive to create worlds for other people’s (and my own) entertainment is the only reason to wake up every morning and do this incredibly frustrating job.  But does that make me a better writer than the person who writes for the accomplishment of a finished book, or the person who writes for the sheer love of the language?

[a long pause, a thoughtful stare….]

No. And no matter what your preference, don’t let anyone tell you that you are somehow a ‘lesser’ writer for why you do it.

Not so long as you make use of all those things – the love of language, the energy of the story, the desire to f*ck with your readers’ heads a little (because otherwise, the story has no resonance), and the joy of having a completed story to present to the world.

There is no “best” reason to write.  It’s important, though, for you to know why you do it.  Not to justify yourself in a bar-room discussion (although it’s best to be armed for such things), and not even because there will be mornings when you wake up/evenings when you fall asleep, and say “why the HELL am I doing this, again?”

You need to know because without that knowing, you will fail.

Oh, bullshit, someone out there is scoffing.  All you need are the tools and the desire, not navel-gazing about why. I not-so-respectfully – after watching a great many writers stumble, and only some of them get up — disagree.

Motivation and desire are essential to any career in the arts, especially when you must be a businessperson as well.  The publishing world will throw endless distractions at you, people will list the things you SHOULD do or SHOULD want or SHOULD accomplish.

If you listen to that noise, you will get lost in it.

Self-awareness isn’t just about why you write, but what you need out of it.   Being able to hear that one true voice in the midst of all the noise, to understand what satisfies your need, will allow you to turn down the noise, and get back to work.

And that’s what makes a better writer.

*some people write for the glory, or instant wealth.  We will, for the purposes of defining “writer” in this instance, merely point and laugh.


Next week:  You Can Say No.

Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy.  Her first collection, DRAGON VIRUS, will be published by Fairwood Press in Spring 2011.  For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)  And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at Learn more at, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 5 — 6 Comments

  1. Georgia O’Keeffe once said something to the effect that she painted because she could not dance. I sometimes think I write because I cannot paint. I bet somewhere there is a person who dances because she cannot write.

  2. I don’t know that this post could have come at a better time for me. It’s been a long struggle for me to get my butt back in the chair. Part of that struggle has been trying to understand what it was that was stopping me, that was sending me into a blind panic, that made me block out the characters that I had once embraced (and by ’embraced’ I mean ‘sometimes tortured a little bit’).

    I’ve only just recently realized that all of the SHOULD had taken over the WHY, and your post brought into focus the very hazy answer to a lot of my questioning. It’s only in the past couple of days that I’ve started to be able to let go of the expectations (mine, and those that I perceived other people had of me) and try to untangle–or perhaps rediscover–what it was that drove me to write in the first place.

    “You need to know because without that knowing, you will fail.”

    Somewhere in the past several years, I lost track of what it was that made me write, that made me want to write, that made me give in to the temptation to write when I knew that I should have been doing something else.

    Writing right now feels like I’m taking uncertain–ofttimes flailing–baby steps. But catching a glimpse of *why* I’m doing it so that I *can* take those baby steps and reach for it again is so much better than being rooted in place by fear of what I “should” be writing and why I “should” be writing it and not being able to get any closer than “just out of reach”.

    I’m still a little bit nervous that I’ll scare that whole Writing Thing off again by looking directly at it (and talking about it–in public, no less), but right now it’s looking directly back at me and saying, “I dare you.” So maybe, just maybe, it’s not going to run from me. And I’m not going to run from it.

  3. Then there comes the moment when you wonder why you are letting these shoulds overwhelm you and the answer is because you are wondering whether you are fooling yourself with all this writing and whether you could get published if only you followed a few shoulds.

  4. Mary – well, I suppose it depends on which “should” you are talking about, and why you’re resisting it (is it because “that doesn’t feel right to me” or “nobody can tell me how to Do My Thing?”)

    Which goes back to “know why you’re doing this in the first place…”