Why write? Some thoughts...

Recently, I received the following question from a student...

"I struggle so much getting back into writing because I have this idea that my writing isn`t good enough and that people don't read anymore anyway, they are just watching Netflix or play video games instead.  I am currently a student studying comparative literature at my local university and the fiction I read in my classes makes me so feel so small and inadequate. What can I do about this?"

I thought I'd share my answer, in case you have similar struggles...

"First, in response to your concern that people don’t read anymore – the statistics actually don’t support this. Speaking of print books alone, many hundreds of millions of books are sold every year.

As for comparing your own writing to the fiction you read in your classes, here are a few things to keep in mind...

1) Very likely, you are comparing your own rough drafts to the final edited drafts of the best works of an author’s career. You are not seeing all of those authors' rough drafts and failed efforts and the books that they wrote while they were still learning and building their skills.

2) Whatever you write you can improve. You can keep rewriting and revising it until you’re satisfied. So if it doesn’t measure up to your standards at first, that doesn’t mean that you’ve failed a test. It only means that it's not the final draft (unless you choose to abandon it and switch to a new project).

3) However good a writer you are now is not the measure of your potential. The more you read and write, the better you’ll get.

4) If there's a gap between the writing you're doing now and the writing you wish you were doing, that is actually a positive sign. It means that you have unfulfilled potential. Ira Glass had some useful words on this subject -- you can listen to them here:

5) The truth is that you aren’t Tolstoy or Woolf or Morrison or whoever it is you’re reading in your classes, so you can’t write the books they have written. But you can write different books that THEY can't write. There are things you do better than they could. You have a different imagination, and different knowledge; you've lived through different experiences; you have a different voice, a different way of filtering the world. As a writer, you are unique and irreplaceable.

6) Although it is true that your writing is something irreplaceable that you can give to the world, I suggest looking at the question of 'Why write?' in a different way. Currently, it sounds like you’re framing the question in terms of, 'Why does the world need my writing?' Instead, consider this question: 'What can my writing do for me?'

Writing can allow you to live more deeply, richly, intensely. It allows you to use all of your intelligence and imagination. It is beautiful to try to create something beautiful. When you let go of your anxiety enough to enjoy the process, writing can be a pleasure, a game, an escape. And if you love literature, which it sounds like you do, it is a way to converse with the authors you admire, to be part of the conversation.

If you look at the question of 'Why write?' in terms of what writing does for you, the question becomes answerable. And it allows you to focus on the writing itself. Which is likely to not only reduce your anxiety, but also greatly benefit your writing."

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