Working with newer writers as a teacher and coach, I am reminded of my foggy intentions as I first stumbled towards writing. Did I want to be a journalist? a poet? a fiction writer? I didn’t know. Was I writing for money? self-expression? love? fame? recognition from my peers? Yes, all of these. So, every piece of writing I did was unfairly asked to meet competing needs. Like a journalist, I wanted to make some money from my writing. Like a poet or a fiction writer, I wanted to express something previously unexpressed about life, preferable I’d bring the ineffable to the page in some startling new way that would bring me the awe of writers I admired. And through all of this confusion about why I was writing each piece, I hadn’t even yet found the vehicles my voice was suited for–personal essays and memoir.
In the past year, I’ve become acutely aware of my competing needs as a writer. I want to make money (there I said it). I want to express what has not been expressed. I want to write work that expands hearts and minds. I want peers to “get” and–I admit it–admire my work. But, I realize that if I’m making a living as a writer and writing teacher (which I am! a dream come true!), every writing task will be addressing at least one of my goals, but no writing task will address all of them. I write articles for money for match.com. I don’t expect them to be poetry or to win awards for them. I’m writing another book–it’s a ton of work and who knows what the money will be–but it’s my book and I get to say exactly what I want in it, just the way I want to say it. Delicious.
When you approach a writing task, ask yourself: What am I hoping to get from this? The love of my mother? a big check? small check? a publication credit? a chance to create a literary vision? the thrill of a byline? a bigger audience? All of these goals are legitimate, but no writing task–don’t matter how great a writer you are–can meet every goal. It’s okay to write for money and it’s okay to write for love. It’s very rare to write for both at the same time. And, it’s a ton easier to find the words if you know why you’re looking for them.