Be careful what you ask a writer.
A few years ago when I was trying my hand at freelance writing, I was visiting with a lady seated next to me on a flight between Salt Lake City and Missoula. Conversation led around to asking what sort of work I was involved in. I told her I did a bit of freelance writing.
“Oh? Why do you write?” she asked.
I wished she had asked what I wrote, not why.
That would have been easier to answer: travel stories, profiles, business articles, faith or inspirational stories, humor, columns, history, even some stabs at short fiction.
I gave an off-the-cuff, flip answer and that was the end of the conversation. But it did get me to thinking about why I like to write. Perhaps to earn money should be a top reason, but it isn’t – there are thousands of easier ways to earn money than freelance writing.
Among my reasons for writing, though, are the challenges – the chance to help bring recognition to folks for their achievements, the opportunity to share joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies, accomplishments and frustrations. Those are the slices of everyday life.
Inspirational stories can affect readers by making them feel something – to laugh, cry, appreciate, sympathize, empathize, to find or rediscover hope, motivation or sense of purpose. Looking for new angles and new information about old topics can make history an adventure. And there’s a possibility that business profiles or new product stories can help create new jobs.
Writers usually feel the people they write about have something to say, to share or to offer. And ego plays a role, too. Garrison Keillor says that “shy people” write so that folks will notice them.
I suppose we do, otherwise we’d be among billions of faceless specks on this planet, because we feel we really don’t do many things well enough to gain attention.
Anyway, a final word of advice: If you ever find yourself on an airplane seated next to someone who fancies himself or herself a writer, just ask what they write about, not why. It may be easier to answer. And the writer might gain new assurance for his purpose in life!
Paul Fugleberg is a former editor and co-publisher of the Flathead Courier of Polson and the Ronan Pioneer, his freelance articles and photos have appeared in numerous national and regional magazines and newspapers, and he has written several books. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.