Getting Motivated: Why Write a Novel?

Isaac Asimov: I write for the same reason I breathe - because if I didn't, I would die.

As you know (or as you're about to find out), it takes hard work to write a novel – and with no guarantee that the book will be a success. So what is the payback? What are the perks? Heck, why bother writing a novel at all?

The motivation for writing will be different for everyone...

For some, making money will be the prize they keep their eyes on - though it doesn't motivate me (honestly!)

Not that the good cold cash that an international bestseller would bring wouldn't be appreciated - it's just that there have got to be easier ways of turning a buck than to write fiction.

For others, it will be fame that they seek (or even celebrity!). Me, I'm perfectly happy out of the glare of the spotlight, thank you very much.

Other people will seek the respect and kudos that would surely come from publishing a well-reviewed book. Or perhaps going down in history as one of the literary greats.

Are any of these things the driving force behind me when I write novels?

Nope. Not that they wouldn't be welcome if they came knocking on my door, you understand, but they really don't motivate me. They aren't the perks of writing that I am seeking.

Why not?

Because all of these things are rewards you receive only after your novel is published. Before that can happen, you face months (and probably years) of hard work - and with no guarantee whatsoever of success.

No, if fame and fortune and all the rest of it were the only reasons to write, none of us would stick at it for more than five minutes.

So what else is there? For what it is worth, here are a few things that motivate me to write...

1. The Challenge

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."
- George Orwell

"It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?"
- Vita Sackville-West

Nothing in life that is worthwhile comes easy. In fact, it is precisely because something is difficult that makes it worth the effort.

Why? Because with something simple, like boiling an egg, there is little payback - you just get an egg.

But to write a novel is tough, not easy.

Consequently, the payback is more than just a completed piece of long fiction - you also get an incredible sense of achievement and feeling of self-pride.

And you don't just experience these things at the end of the process, when you have completed your novel, but during every step you take along the way.

The reason I love playing golf is that playing the game well is difficult. Most of my shots could be described as workmanlike at best. But just occasionally I hit the perfect drive or sink a 30-foot putt, and when I do that the buzz is immense.

I experience that same buzz frequently when I write - when I finish a particularly difficult scene, for example, or figure out a clever plot twist. And you will feel it, too.

2. Exploring Unrealized Possibilities

As you will discover in the section on Creating Characters, there should be a part of yourself in all of your fictional characters. Or to put it another way, all of your characters should be facets of yourself.

When you write a novel about a murderer, for example, you need to draw on that part of yourself which, under extreme circumstances, would be capable of taking a life (and it exists in us all).

We actually contain every human trait imaginable if we search deeply enough...

  • There is a part of us that is the life and soul of a party, and an opposing part that hates parties and makes us wish we had stayed at home.
  • There is a part of us that is fearless and another part that is cowardly. (The two traits play off each other, meaning you are neither as brave as you would like to think you are nor as cowardly as you fear.)

Now, here is the thing...

In the real world, we rarely get to explore the extremes of our personalities. We all would like to play the brave hero, but we all have that inner coward holding us back.

About the only time we truly get to be the hero is in our daydreams. And creative writing is really just a glorified form of daydreaming.

When we create fictional characters and put them into invented situations, we can get to act in any way we choose. We can be more romantic, more witty, more loveable, more anything than we ever quite manage to be in our real lives.

The flip side of that is that we also get to be more villainous when we write novels. We can cheat, steal, lie, say terrible things, even kill people. And that's kind of fun, too!

Though it isn't half as much fun as the third of my reasons for writing novels...

3. The Chance to "Play God"

Let's face it, we are all more or less insignificant in this world, however much we try to kid ourselves otherwise. We are powerless in the larger scheme of things, and society as a whole really doesn't care what we think and feel.

Life sucks like that.

But having a creative outlet is one way to redress the balance. Put simply, when we write a novel it allows us to create our own personal universe, and then to play at being in charge in that universe.

And who wouldn't want to do that?

  • For some people, their garden is their creative outlet, or their way of rebuilding their tiny corner of this planet to their own designs and specifications. They may be invisible in the wider world, but within the confines of their four garden walls they are omnipotent.
  • Other people express themselves through painting or music; for them, their canvasses and their musical compositions are their gardens.
  • As for us, we write novels. We build entire worlds using nothing but words and the power of our imaginations, and what we say in those worlds goes. And that feels great!

4. Novel Writing As Catharsis

They say it's good to get your problems out in the open. And let's face it, even those of us who consider ourselves happy-go-lucky kind of people still have our fair share of fears, anxieties, neuroses and all the rest of it.

We are all trying to figure out what it means to be alive in this funny old world and what it takes to get by in it.

One solution is to talk and to share. Talking and sharing is good.

Another solution is to write a novel. Seriously. If you stop to think about it, novels are like test laboratories for human behavior...

  • Take Character X
  • Put them in Situation Y
  • Depending on how the character acts, you come up with Result Z

Let's say you have a fear of the dark...

If you give your novel's principal character this fear, and put them into situations which test the fear, I guarantee you will find that the process helps you and heals you - not least if you figure out a way for the character to overcome, or at least manage, their fear.

Or say you're hopeless at relationships...

Make your character equally lacking in this department and see if you can figure out a way, in the course of writing the novel, that they could change and become more successful at finding and holding onto love.

I don't want to make the process sound as mechanical as I have. The truth is that a lot of novel writing takes place at a subconscious level, anyway.

The important thing is to take the initial decision to confront your fears or doubts or shortcomings (or whatever) head-on. Then, in the natural course of writing your novel, you can't help but work through your problems.

Not only will you find it a truly cathartic experience to write a novel. Your audience will find the process of reading it cathartic, too.