Why Do We Write and Publish?

why do we write and publish

By Troy Headrick

Several days ago I needed to leave the writing center I manage and walk to the college library to pick up some reading that is relevant to some research I am doing.  So I turned the center over to my very capable tutors and began the ten-minute stroll across campus to the building where they keep stacks and stacks of books, the collected wisdom of the ages.

I checked out what I needed and walked back to the center, carrying one thick and one thin tome with me.  As soon as I walked through the center door, Kate, a very talented tutor with an MA in English, asked, “How was the library?”

“Full of books!” I answered.

“I bet,” she said.

Almost as soon as she’d put her question to me, I said, “You know, if I were working on my PhD in psychology, I think I’d write a dissertation on why people feel like they have to write books.  What is their motivation?  Where does this need to write and share one’s thinking come from?”

“That would be an interesting topic,” Kate replied.

I then sat down at my desk and began to have several thoughts.  One of them was this:  I think I just found a topic for my next Pointless Overthinking blog.

Okay, so why do people feel the need to write down what’s in their heads and then publish it?  Clearly, the desire to write and share has been around for as long as people have.  Some inner urge pushed me to record this and then post it for all to see.  What’s up with that?

I hate to think in either/or terms, but I’m going to do so now to promote thought and discussion.  Are writers who record their thoughts and then share them doing so for selfish reasons, or is this act altruistic?

I mean, I could hold these same ideas in my mind without ever uttering them?  So why did I feel the need to say all this aloud?  Is this a form of showing off?  Am I hoping to make a difference in people’s lives by sharing all this?

The more I think about these questions, the more fascinated I become.  I generally think of myself as a shy person, but why would such an individual invite such attention?  (Maybe I don’t know myself as well as I think I do?  Maybe I’m really an exhibitionist?)

I have no idea what the answers to these queries are, but I think they’re wonderful food for thought.  What do you have to say to all this?

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy:  Blog & Art.

48 thoughts on “Why Do We Write and Publish?

  1. Good question. I’ve marveled at how many books some people are able to write & publish.
    For me, writing helps brings clarity when my mind is all over the place, usually when I’m stressed.
    However, that kind of writing is only for me.
    The kind of writing that leads to publishing feels more motivated by a desire to pass on something that can live beyond me.
    A wise old Jewish woman once told me that Jews believe writing is immortal because it can live long beyond you from generation to generation (eg: the Torah, the Bible, etc.).
    So perhaps this is our deeper motivation to publish; to have our written word live beyond us & thereby claim a little immortality.

    1. Thanks very much for the interaction. Wanting to have one’s words be immortal sounds a little egocentric to me. Of course, as I mentioned in the piece, I’m reluctant to think in either/or ways but I wanted to promote thought and conversation. I suppose it is possible to want to publish to burnish one’s reputation and to desire to help others. By the way, the wise Jewish woman was certainly on to something. i’m often dumbfounded when I pick up a book that was written centuries ago. Books make it possible to do a little intellectual time travel.

      1. I guess only each person knows if their motivation is egocentric or altruistic.
        For myself, I prefer to assume altruism or I stand the risk of being like my mother who never published because she feared it was never “good enough”. Better to let your light shine & possibly help others with your words than to hide it & no one would ever benefit. And what a loss that would be.

      2. Like you, I try to assume the best of people. I certainly agree that is better to have risked and failed than to have never tried.

  2. Thanks for this post. I think since humans are social creatures, we share to connect. I’m writing memoir about a semester abroad in Spain, so that’s a good example of sharing what I’m thinking (and was thinking then). : ) Rebecca

    1. Those who make a lot of money writing certainly do gain fame and fortune via the words they put down and share. Of course, most of us do it for other reasons. Your semester abroad sounds interesting. I lived for nearly twenty years as an expatriated American. Where were you in Spain? I’ve been to Madrid and have been a tourist in most European countries. By the way, how’s the memoir coming? Thanks for the comment.

    1. I agree that sharing is a big part of why people write and publish. But many serious artists will tell you that they make art because they feel compelled to make it. I don’t know if I would say that someone with a compulsion is behaving egotistically, but certainly the psychology of creativity seems quite complex. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!

    1. For Linda: I read your bio. You’re doing really important work. It’s a shame that educators are so underappreciated in the US. I have long been an instructor at universities and such and ended up going abroad for about two decades so that I could make some real money. It’s very ironic that I made more money (and received more respect) in “third-world countries” than I ever did in “first-world” America. Again, thank you for your service!

  3. Authors are storytellers and if their stories resonate with us, they touch our hearts, tickle our funny bones and pique our curiosity. Good books open vistas for readers, leading us to see things in ways that enrich our lives. Authors see these aspects as important opportunities to communicate and to touch people. And, ultimately, writing also transports authors to places where they make discoveries about themselves.

    1. You are absolutely right and have extraordinarily well described all the ways that books improve our lives and make us better people. Again, I wanted to mostly do a little thought experiment in this blog. I find the whole creative impulse to be really fascinating. What makes some of us want to create and then share? A very interesting question. Thank you very much for participating. I always find your comments edifying.

  4. Okay this is not an easy one. But … I have reading Proust and he says that the reason he writes is to preserve the time that has been lost, the beauty of the past and the things he learned. In his writing, he also studies to a minute and diminutive detail our motivations and feelings as we go through life. I think that, if you reflect, you’ll see that Proust may be right: the foundation of the desire to write is the desire to stop time, to preserve ourselves, and to transcend death.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Believe it or not, I’ve actually been wanting to read a little Proust, so I’m happy that you wrote this because you’ve got me inspired to go ahead and do what I’ve been wishing to do. I think Proust is right. We write because we are always deeply aware that life is passing and our time is so short…

      1. Proust is so worth it. Though he’s not an easy read. I actually told my daughter it was too hard, she should wait ’till she was older (she’s 30). So she got mad and read Combre, the first book, all through.

        I was chastened. Apparently though *I* wasn’t ready for Proust at 30, she was.

  5. Good question! I think a good reason to write is to share knowledge. As a young person, I read constantly and I wanted to join the ranks! Now I think I’d just share what I’ve learned along my pilgrimage.

    1. Thanks for reading and participating. I like that you use the word “pilgrimage” and I will check out your blog. Your use of the word “sharing” is also key. We certainly do share when we write and publish. I’m glad you’ve finally found the opportunity to “join the ranks” as you’ve said. Take care and keep on keeping on…

    1. No, stop that, you are a writer. You have a blog. Writer is the name we give people who write. Author is person who publishes books. You may not be a professional … yet … but you are a writer. Own it.

  6. Good question! I think that we do so to share knowledge. Human civilization has advanced greatly because of the knowledge we gained from the past. Spoken knowledge can be easily forgotten or remembered wrong. Having them written is a better way to preserve the knowledge. Having it published, though, serves as a way to easily propagate that knowledge.

    Sharing knowledge, and experience, that’s what it is for, I believe.

    1. But what about those who don’t write about knowledge-based subjects and write and publish more personal things? A lot of what I write is my personal way of seeing the world and attempting to understand it, myself, and others. Thanks for reading and contributing!

      1. It’s still knowledge, isn’t it? Publishing what you learned from personal experience and sharing it is still knowledge sharing, and a reader may learn a thing or two from your experiences.

        If I drank that expired milk and had a terrible experience with it, and posted/published it – wouldn’t you avoid doing the same thing because you read it from my post?

      2. How can you write about non-knowledge. Even if I write “I have a headache,” it’s knowledge based. The knowledge is that it hurts.

  7. This is a great question! For me, I think I just needed to get things out. Not that I don’t care about connecting with people. But my main motivation is not to hold it in. I don’t know why I have this need, though. Maybe, we are just messengers of the muse and we are not supposed to be silent.

    1. I think my motivation for writing is similar to yours. I also like the feeling I get when I create a nicely formed piece of artful writing. I think most writers at least partly feel the need to find their voice and then use it to say something unique and authentic. Thanks and take care!

  8. That’s a very philosophical question and one that has a million and one answers. Each person has many different reasons and sometimes these interact with others and help us to find like minded individuals.

  9. I haven’t published book yet, but I want to someday. I want to share my work because I always have had problems about actually sharing my ideas, writing is my one-to-go to express them

    And about stories, I want to share what I have written to receive criticism

    1. Thanks for the comment. I love your emphasis on “sharing” in what you’ve written here. Like you, I grew up sort of shy and had trouble sharing verbally. I have gotten past that limitation now, but I feel very confident expressing myself in writing. I wish you all the luck in all your future writing endeavors!

  10. 𝙶𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚝 𝚙𝚘𝚜𝚝!
    𝙸𝚗 𝚜𝚑𝚘𝚛𝚝, 𝙸 𝚠𝚛𝚒𝚝𝚎 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚖𝚢𝚜𝚎𝚕𝚏. 𝚆𝚛𝚒𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚑𝚎𝚕𝚙𝚜 𝚖𝚎 𝚘𝚛𝚐𝚊𝚗𝚒𝚣𝚎 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚊𝚛𝚝𝚒𝚌𝚞𝚕𝚊𝚝𝚎 𝚖𝚢 𝚝𝚑𝚘𝚞𝚐𝚑𝚝𝚜, 𝚠𝚑𝚒𝚌𝚑 𝚌𝚘𝚖𝚎𝚜 𝚖𝚞𝚌𝚑 𝚖𝚘𝚛𝚎 𝚗𝚊𝚝𝚞𝚛𝚊𝚕𝚕𝚢 𝚝𝚘 𝚖𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚗 𝚜𝚙𝚎𝚊𝚔𝚒𝚗𝚐.
    𝙰𝚍𝚍𝚒𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗𝚊𝚕𝚕𝚢, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚊𝚕𝚖𝚘𝚜𝚝 𝚊𝚜 𝚊 𝚋𝚘𝚗𝚞𝚜, 𝙸 𝚍𝚘 𝚑𝚘𝚙𝚎 𝚖𝚢 𝚠𝚛𝚒𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚛𝚎𝚜𝚘𝚗𝚊𝚝𝚎𝚜 𝚠𝚒𝚝𝚑 𝚖𝚢 𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚍𝚎𝚛𝚜. 𝙸𝚝’𝚜 𝚛𝚎𝚠𝚊𝚛𝚍𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚝𝚘 𝚌𝚘𝚗𝚗𝚎𝚌𝚝 𝚠𝚒𝚝𝚑 𝚘𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚜–𝚝𝚘𝚝𝚊𝚕 𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚊𝚗𝚐𝚎𝚛𝚜–𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚘 𝚎𝚗𝚝𝚎𝚛 𝚊 𝚍𝚒𝚜𝚌𝚘𝚞𝚛𝚜𝚎 𝚊𝚋𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚘𝚞𝚛 𝚑𝚞𝚖𝚊𝚗 𝚎𝚡𝚙𝚎𝚛𝚒𝚎𝚗𝚌𝚎.
    𝙺𝚎𝚎𝚙 𝚠𝚛𝚒𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚐, 𝚏𝚛𝚒𝚎𝚗𝚍𝚜!

    1. Thanks very much for your comment! Like you, I often begin a post by choosing a topic that I’ve been interested in or thinking a lot about. But as I begin organizing my thoughts, I think more and more about audience. I’m sure your writing resonates with others because it resonates with me! Take care and I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

  11. I definitelty write for selfish reasons! I write because it is like a bit of therapy to get my words on paper and I write because I enjoy hearing from other people what they think about what I wrote.

    1. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, carlystarr. Often, when I start off, I have a topic in mind that I think I might be the only one interested in, and then I try to find a way to present it so that others get engaged–sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. All writers are unique and all writing is personal, even very information-driven writing. I say let’s let a thousand flowers bloom and celebrate the diversity among writers and their very varied motivations. Thanks for sharing your story.

  12. I am so happy that you find meaning through writing and sharing with others. Actually, writing is about using a tool to find (or make) meaning. You’ve hit upon a very important aspect of the art of writing. Thanks very much for your contribution.

  13. When a person keeps all in it’s head, it robs the world from moving forward, knowledge to do something even entertainment. I have over 300 books in my house just counting paper ones and even more digital. And all are being read and some reread. Writing is important to human kind. The dark ages weren’t called that for nothing.

    1. I totally agree with you! Language and writing is the “light” of the world. I’m so happy to have met another person who sees the importance of reading and books. Take care and thank you for your comment.

  14. After pondering this thought, I came to this conclusion. I write to get all these stories and words, that are spinning in my head, out of me. I publish out of my desire to share my stories with those who wish to read and enjoy them. 🙂

    1. Thank you for sharing the story of your motivation. I really like that you’ve figured your motivation out. Sometimes, I’m not entirely sure why I put pen to paper. Again, thanks.

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