Why do we write?

Last night I was teaching an Intro to Fiction class on Zoom. It was 9:30 p.m., class winding down, when someone asked me why it’s bad to start off a story by writing about the weather. I was mulling over the answer to that, when another student, truculent and charming, said, “Why shouldn’t I start a story about the weather? I’m not writing because I want to follow the rules. I want to shake things up.” Which led us all to a rip-roaring discussion of why we write.

Image by Yerson Retamal from Pixabay

1. To better understand ourselves

By far, this was the number one reason from my students. Writing is a way for them to figure out who they are. To process things that have happened to them. To better understand their place in the world.

2. To be a source of truth

This was a small but vocal minority. They were great fans of Ernest Hemingway. Their argument was that they didn’t care if a single person in the world read what they wrote, but they wanted to write something true. In a world in which it’s hard to figure out what is true, they saw themselves as beacons.

3. To comfort

This was from me (by far the oldest person in the room.) I told them that I imagined my reader as being someone who’s struggled, maybe feeling overwhelmed, looking for a friend. I like to think in my work they would find hope and humor and friendship and maybe a little wisdom.

4. To make money

No one said this.

5. To entertain

No one said this either

6. Because we can’t not write

Isn’t that the bottom line?

How about you? Why do you write? Or what do you look for when you read?

Susan Breen is the author of the Maggie Dove mystery series and her short story has just been long-listed or the Margery Allingham short mystery competition. Her new novel, MERRY, (not a mystery), is forthcoming from Alcove Press in Fall 2025.


  1. how many people said Because we can’t not write? This is a perennial subject of rumination for me. I actually posted about this on FB this week. From Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files–In the latest, a person asked: Would you continue to write and perform if your audience disappeared overnight?
    Nick’s answer: No.

    And this stopped me in my tracks. Many of us have no or very little audience. Many writers are still in the query trench portion of their journey. In other words, whereas many people I know write for the fulfillment that comes from the creative process, Nick Cave, apparently, only does it because getting his work heard and seen is the fulfillment. I don’t know how I feel about that. I kind of imagined him as having a creative furnace chugging away inside his head no matter what. By default.

    What do you think?

  2. I subscribed to Nick Cave’s Red Hand File on your advice! Do you think he means it? I suspect he would keep at it no matter what. I have certainly put in a lot of dry years, but writing is so much of who I am that I can’t imagine stopping. But it’s also brought me joy. (No one but me said because we can’t not write. 🙂

  3. I’m in the because I can’t camp. I came to writing fiction late in life so I’m racing against the clock to write all the stories I want to tell in whatever time I have left. Even when I vow to take a break, I find myself sitting at my computer writing, within four or five days.

      1. This 100% haunts me. I’m 72 (closing in on 73!) and I’m terrified I will run out of time. Fortunately I am in rather excellent health, so I got that goin’ for me, but still…Then reason #6 and #3.5 (made that up.) I’ve been writing stuff since I was a kid. To NOT be able to write would surely kill me. #3.5–I see a growing gap between the age group that “frequents” cozies, and readers who feel on the edge of “polite” society and feel totally unrepresented in cozy mystery (if they are readers). Where do all those young people see themselves in mysteries, outside of YA fiction? Where are the ex-punk rocker, tattooed, broken childhood, mystery solvers? In my book that’s where. And it comes straight from the source–me. We/I want to prove to that whole section of readers that these books can be for them too! ……sorry…rant over! LOL!

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