Keli Gwyn
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Reality Check: Why We Write

photobucket image by heatherranee

Why do we write?

I’ve seen this question posed on a number of blogs.

Author Jody Hedlund listed four reasons we write in her post “WHY Do Writers Do It?”

  1. There’s always the chance we can make it big.
  2. We long to communicate what’s inside us with others.
  3. Writing feeds our souls.
  4. The love of writing consumes us.


I read the comments on Jody’s post with interest. Based upon the responses, her list could be turned on its head. One word summarized the responses: love.

  1. We love the actual process of writing, the weaving of words to express ourselves.
  2. We love how writing makes us feel, the sense of wholeness it brings.
  3. We love the thought that our writing could bring others enjoyment.
  4. We love the idea of seeing our work published one day.

Almost without exception, the possibility of making it big wasn’t a motivating factor. Although many want to see their name on a book cover or in a byline, monetary gain wasn’t a driving force either. From what I saw, self-fulfillment and realization of a dream were far more important motivations.

Why I Write

I read Jody’s post that day but didn’t leave a comment. I needed time to ponder the question. Why do I write?

My reasons are in keeping with those of the writers who responded to Jody’s question.

  • I love the actual process of putting words on page or screen. My mom remembers me being enamored with writing as early as age seven.
  • I love the way I feel when I’m writing. I experience joy, wholeness, and deep satisfaction. Writing, while work at times, is a labor of love.
  • I love the thought that the stories I write and the characters I’ve created might bring enjoyment to those who read them. While my primary goal is to entertain, I like thinking that the challenges my characters overcome and the lessons they learn might help someone in a similar situation.

Me with my first advance on royalties check

I don’t write because I harbor dreams of getting rich. It’s never been about the money for me. This fact was made clear this past Wednesday when I went to the post office and found a check from Barbour Publishing in my box.

I squealed, startling an older gentleman, the one who was kind enough to snap this photo for me. My joy, though, wasn’t due to the actual amount. While Barbour was generous, the reality is that when I divide the dollar value by the hours I’ve invested in my writing career to this point, I’m making less than the minimum wage I earned as a teen back in the seventies.

Gwynly, aka Supportive Husband and President of the Keli Gwyn Fan Club

The payment made me happy for three reasons:

  • A highly respected publishing house believes in me and is willing to make an investment in me, which is tremendous affirmation.
  • My awesome agent finally received some payment for the hard work she’s done on my behalf.
  • And the most important . . . I was able to hand that check to Gwynly, the dear man who has supported me every step of the way, covering my expenses for five years with not a word of complaint. Knowing I’m finally able to help out makes me happy.

I wrestled with whether or not to mention my advance, but I know there are those who might wonder about the financial aspect of my journey, so I chose to include this step. Another reason I decided to mention the advance is that I’ve already had some non-writer friends make comments about me being rich now, which makes me stifle a laugh. As those of us familiar with the publishing industry know, most writers don’t receive huge advances and fat royalty checks. There’s a reason for the counsel often heard in writing circles: Don’t quit your day job?

* * *

I’d like to hear why you write. Are your reasons similar to those listed above?

Did you know that most, if not all of a debut author’s advance goes to cover expenses and finance her marketing and promotion efforts, which will be true in my case?

Do you have questions about an advance on royalties? If so, feel free to ask. Since I’m under contract, I’m not at liberty to reveal details, but I’ll answer the questions I can.

Keli Gwyn


  • This is fun! I wonder about this step. Wouldn’t it be nice or won’t it be nice when we can quit our day jobs with a budget of course!

    Thanks Keli! You and hubs go out and have fun! Congrats again!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Bonnie, I found a place that serves one of Gwynly’s favorite dishes, Jägerschnitzel, which he discovered in Germany. I’m treating him, which is fun.

  • Jessica says:

    I’m familiar with the advances of different houses thanks to an author’s website where she lists what they generally pay. CONGRATS! That’s so exciting to be getting, and yeah, my reasons for writing are similar to the above.
    Have a wonderful day! And thanks for sharing about this step…

  • Martina Bedregal Calderón says:

    In younger years I wrote because I had so many ideas in my heads and read so many good books and had a teacher who motivated me a lot.

    In Peru I wrote to stay sane and keep my mind busy while being locked up by my ex hubby during almost a year and during other hardships.

    Now I write because it fulfills a higher need, the need of having my mind being busy, of expressing what I sometimes cannot say when I speak (some things are too difficult to put in spoken words, written words make it easier)…and just for the joy of writing, joy for my friends and for others and for myself.

    Now I write

  • Wendy says:

    I respect you all the more for the way you just talked about the financial aspect. I love that you delighted in watching your agent get paid and handing it to your man! You are just so very cool!
    ~ Wendy

  • Lori Benton says:

    Keli, a lovely post. I do write for the same reasons. It’s utterly fulfilling, the writing. The hardest creative work I’ve ever done, but the most rewarding too.

    So what does an author do with her second book advance, if she’s so blessed to get one? Hopefully at some point most publishing authors get to buy new shoes or have dinner out! 😉 JK. I’ve heard the “then you’ll be rich” comments forecasted for when/if I’m even contracted, and it’s hard not to fall down laughing.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Lori, I haven’t really thought about a second book advance. My mind has been focused on the upcoming revisions for my debut novel (still seems unreal to think of my story that way) and on the new story I’ve been plotting.

      When I sold, I told myself I’d have a Victorian gown made, one like my heroine wears at an important event in her life. I’m meeting with a seamstress next week to discuss the design. She does excellent work, and I know she’ll come up with something stunning. I’m going to get Gwynly a frock coat and stovepipe hat, too. We plan to wear our reproduction outfits to my book signings. =)

  • Keli, you hit the nail on the head (one of those square rusty nails like we found at the Mormon Island ruins from the 49er era). I write for the reasons you so beautifully stated. The money… huh? We don’t write for that. It’s simply in our blood.

  • I wish I could put into words why I write – or at least why I write novels. It most certainly can’t be for the money. I made great money (in terms of an hourly wage) for writing magazine articles and I haven’t made a dime writing a novel, yet I still do it. It also can’t be to see my name in print.

    Maybe I write because it’s hard. Because it’s something so many people say they want to do even though most never even try. I guess I’m making up the reasons as I go along. At first I just wanted to say I’d written a novel. My next dream is to secure an agent. Getting published would obviously be my next driving force. Each step in the world of publishing seems so difficult, so insurmountable, that achieving each goal feels like a vast accomplishment. Publishing in the magazine industry always felt too easy – at least for me. Maybe that’s why I didn’t find it be very fulfilling.

    • Martina Bedregal Calderón says:

      I wish you a lot of success, Whitney!!

    • Whitney,

      Your blog about finding time to write–and finding the right time–is interesting because you have been testing various times. When you do get published, however, you will need to rename your blog.

      Lots of good material goes unpublished because the author works on the manuscript, but not the proposal. Sent to the most appropriate outlets, an refined proposal has an excellent chance of being published.


      • Thanks, Tim. I’m still trying to find the “magic hour.”

        It’s interesting that you pointed out my blog title (Musings of an Unpublished Author) because I AM published, just not as a novelist. I don’t know if it’s just how I think the world sees me, or how I see myself, but I don’t think I’ll consider myself published until it’s a novel.

        Has anyone else had a similar experience? If people ask what I write and I say “magazine articles” they look bored to tears. But if I say I’m a writer working on a novel their eyes light up. Does the average person only consider novelists to be true writers?

        • Keli Gwyn says:

          Whitney, like you, I started with magazine articles. The only ones who got excited about them were my hubby and my parents.

          I think the fact that getting a novel published by a traditional publisher can be a real challenge and take many years is why a novelist is viewed differently. Perhaps it’s similar to the difference between someone who “graduates” after completing a single course and receives a diploma and the person who spends four or more years working on a bachelor’s degree and also receives a diploma. Just a thought.

  • Tamika Eason says:

    A check in the mail for my novel would make my head spin! Writing is my fulfillment, it completes my purpose. My heart races every time I plop in front of the computer.
    I love it!

  • I love these posts and the pictures! How fun! Writing fills so many places inside of me and I love when I can make someone smile, or think, or even cry with my writing because I know it’s moved them somehow. I can’t imagine not doing it 🙂

  • Martina Bedregal Calderón says:

    We can talk again about money when your fourth book has become a best seller, Keli

  • Writing has always been my way of expressing myself. Not only does writing allow me to discover the reality of my own feelings, it gives me a clearer voice with which to speak to God. It is in writing that I am able to articulate my desires, understand my shortcomings, and plan my responses to the challenges of life.

    Publication gives opportunity to expose others to my writing. I believe it will happen if it will produce a harvest of good. If not, then why would I want to buck all the challenges the come along with publication? My hope is that I will know the mind of God about my writing.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Carol Ann, I totally understand how writing helps you hone your thoughts. The same is true of me. When I try to tell my hubby about my story, my words come out muddled and even confusing at times. I’ve told Gwynly countless times that I do a much better job of writing than I do talking.

  • annebarton says:

    I love the question you posed, Keli! I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately too.

    The reason I write is because I can’t sing. If I could, I’d move people with my voice and express myself through lyrics and melodies. But I *can’t* sing, and come to think of it, I’m no good at painting, acting, or playing instruments, either. Thank goodness I can write.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Anne, you are too funny. =)

      So, you write because you can’t sing, paint, act, or play an instrument? I get what you’re saying, though. I can’t do any of those things either, ergo I’m a writer–a historical writer, ergo the use of ergo. *grin*

      The cool thing is that my characters can do all the things I can’t. My heroine plays the violin very well. Sadly, she knows it and is just a wee bit prideful. Ah, the lessons the poor dear has to learn.

  • Thought provoking post, Keli! My reasons for writing are wrapped up in the ones you listed in your article. I’ve sensed God’s nudge to write – to share His unchanging truths with today’s generation. It’s so satisfying to be able to help someone by pointing them to the One with all the answers! Have a blessed weekend, my friend. And congratulations on your first check from Barbour!! 🙂

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Maria, it sounds like your love for the Lord is very closely linked to your love of writing. It’s like that for me, too. That’s why I write for the inspirational market. I want to write God-honoring stories with characters whose lives become richer when they learn the lessons He has for them.

  • Like Whitney, I’ve written for magazines for over a decade, but unlike her I’ve always felt ‘published’. There have been cheques and pleasant feedback from those readers, but my writing has never been about the money or what others think of my words.

    The novel writing is a completely different outlet for me, and I think my reasons for loving it can best be summed up in saying that it lets me capture the multitude of ideas and thoughts that spill out and if not captured on paper will be lost to me forever. It means I really write for myself, for very selfish reasons, but I believe God gives the initial thoughts and provides direction in how they are expressed. Not that long ago he nudged me into the inspirational market and I’m looking forward to where that may take me.

    I love how you’ve chosen to use your advance, BTW. It’s a great indication of your priorities. 🙂

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Carol, how neat that you feel the Lord leading you to the inspirational market. I hope you feel the same sense of satisfaction crafting your novel-length stories as you do when you’re writing your articles.

  • Jody Hedlund says:

    Hi Keli,

    I was trying to get over here yesterday and comment, but as you know, it was a stressful and busy day. I think we definitely need to have that deeper motivation and passion and drive for writing that keeps us going in the days when we’re struggling! My husband and I were talking last night and I told him, “I write to fulfill my need for stories.” I have a need for reading good stories as well as telling them, and writing can fulfill both of those for me.

    Thanks for mentioning me in your post, Keli! And I enjoyed the opportunity to see your dear hubby! Now when you mention him, I’ll have a better picture of your man! 🙂

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Jody, thanks for taking time from your full schedule to stop by.

      I’m glad you tell your stories. You do such a wonderful job of it and delight readers with the results of your hard work.

      And the perfectionist in me must apologize for getting the order of the items from your post messed up. I’ve fixed my goof. Slinking off with flaming cheeks.

  • I love that you said it is just that knowledge that a respected publishing house likes your work. I guess that’s what I want too, to know I have achieved that level and that I’m on the right track.
    Thanks for sharing this way!! Enjoying the journey with you!

  • Keli, it’s funny that you mention the idea of “making it big.” This idea is so foreign to me that when it crossed my mind the other day, I laughed. Sure, it’s theoretically possible that one of us could have a real bestseller. But chances that anyone will be driving a convertible bought by royalty checks are pretty slim! I’ve never thought of writing as a lucrative profession, but I do think it’s a profession that matters–one in which we have a chance to nourish others on a spiritual level.

  • Colin says:

    You hovered around the subject, but setting aside for a moment the fact that it’s none of our business – how much was it?

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Colin, as I said in the post, I’m under contract and not at liberty to reveal the specifics. What I will say is what I’ve heard others say. I could make more working as a greeter at Walmart than I do writing–but I wouldn’t have nearly as much fun.