Why (really) writers write

Posted by 
Julie Ross Myers on 
January 5, 2019 under 

There are two broad types of writers: storytellers and spinners. Storytellers believe in their own stories and want you to share their conviction. Spinners care less about the story and more about the craft of shaping perception. At heart, storytellers are truth sayers and spinners are liars.

George Orwell's 1946 essay, "Why I Write," states four basic motives for writing, which exist in different degrees in every writer: "sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose." But, based on research, what's the truth?

Why fiction writers write

Over 100 published authors said why they write, and the reasons were all over the map, from self-expression to fulfilling a creative urge.

If you ask published writers at the tippy top of success what they like about writing besides the money, you are likely to get more examples of their creative abilities, like Truman Capote's statement, "To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the inner music that words make."

William Somerset Maugham (a personal favorite) said, "Writing is the supreme solace." Solace for what? And why not chocolate ice cream?

Why journalists write

Half of journalism students can't find work when they graduate, so why do they choose to major in it?

Most say they like to write, according to a former journalism instructor at San Francisco State University and the London School of Journalism, Gary Moskowitz.

But what do they mean by writing? Self-expression has nothing to do with journalism? Having the power to influence, which certainly is at the root of breakthrough stories, has nothing to do with writing. Writing skill per se is relatively unimportant in journalism.

Nicholas Tomalin, the late English journalist and writer, famously said, "The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability."

Add another requirement: the ability to write content that benefits advertisers. Sports Illustrated laid off four writers and editors in 2014 for this reason, ignoring their competence as reporters.

Ask journalists what they enjoy about their profession, and it comes down to meeting people and exposing their secrets.

Why copywriters write

Copywriting is the only writing genre that pays a living wage to a large pool of writers.

BBDO adman Philip Dusenberry said, "I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes."

But is money really the supreme motivation? For some, money is the only real validation. Copywriters rub shoulders with business clients all day long, helping them to be more profitable. Some copywriters get the message and recognize money as validation.

Copywriters who work in ad agencies are more likely to work for applause. We love awards. We love kudos for our superior intellects and creative genius. We will work ourselves to the bone to win awards. It isn't just ego. Awards fuel careers and reassure agency clients. So they are worth their weight in gold. Many agencies do pro bono work just to win awards.

And, copywriting is fun. It is the only profession where you are encouraged to drink on the job. It is the only industry where a foosball table is considered office equipment. It's a little misogynistic of them, but many ad agencies deliberately create a frat house environment to stimulate creativity. If you want to fill someone's office with ping-pong balls or post naked photos on Facebook and be praised for it, you should be a copywriter.

Why I write

Why do I like copywriting? Copywriting is puzzle-solving. It's a game, like million-dollar poker, where the stakes are high and your biggest competitor is yourself. When it goes well... when you are playing a winning game... it's pure euphoria. When it's going badly, it's pure hell. In fact, Arthur Reber, a Fulbright scholar who is an authority on poker, sums it up in one word: dopamine.

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