where the writers are
Three Questions Every Writer Should Ask


This post is about connecting with the joy of writing. It comes out of my own sense of frustration about my writing. I am not usually a frustrated writer. I love writing, and I’ve had enough successes mixed in with the disappointments to feel validated as a writer. Actually, I’ve been amazingly lucky.

But sometimes I get tired and annoyed and begin wishing it were just easier. Last week was one of those times. It came on unexpectedly. It came when it shouldn’t have, after a long and lovely vacation.

So this week, I’m writing about ways to thrive as a writer. Not just to survive the hard work, isolation, and rejections—but to love the writing life.

I’m starting by asking three questions. The three questions I think all writers should ask themselves.

Why do you write? No, really, why? When I ask coaching clients this question, I often get sham answers, like “I write because I have to.” When I hear this, I don’t think clients are trying to pull the wool over my eyes (or their own), I just think they haven’t gone deeply enough. Go deep. Reflect on it. Meditate with this simple question in your heart: Why?

(And to read some answers to this fascinating question, check out the Twitter stream of contributors to #whyIwrite.)

How do you feel when you write? I mean not just emotionally, but physically. Have you thought about this lately? What is going on in your body when you’re at your keyboard? Because lately I’ve noticed a kind of empty space in the pit of my stomach, and that is a very bad sign. It says something about how I’m approaching my writing that needs to be changed. Also, sometimes my heart pounds. Obviously, I’m a little afraid. Maybe I’m afraid of finishing my novel because I know what comes next. But I didn’t realize any of this until I asked myself that question: How do I feel when I write? Until I paid attention to my body.

Who are you writing for? Don’t say yourself because yourself is only one of the people you’re writing for. You’re also writing for someone else. Who is that person? Your dad? Your Aunt Miriam? The kid in seventh grade who passed around a note saying “Do you like Jill? I don’t”? (Whoops, that’s mine).

I think it does wonders to picture the people you’re writing for even when you don’t know those people. To actually see a face, or many faces. A child looking at you with suspicion and hope. An old man who appreciates a well-told tale. A woman with four small children and a mortgage who has just a moment for herself and is spending that moment reading your work.  

If I could draw, I’d draw pictures of my readers as I imagine them. Instead, I cut pictures out of magazines or print them from the Internet. Yes, I do this. I post them where I can see them, these faces, looking at me with different emotions.

These are the three questions I'm asking to help get myself back to the joy of writing. Try it yourself. See if they help you reconnect with what writing should be.