Working with newer writers as a teacher and coach, I am reminded of my foggy intentions as I first stumbled towards writing. Did I want to be a journalist? a poet? a fiction writer? I didn't know. Was I writing for money? self-expression? love? fame? recognition from my peers? Yes, all of these. So, every piece of writing I did was unfairly asked to meet competing needs. Like a journalist, I wanted to make some money from my writing. Like a poet or a fiction writer, I wanted to express something previously unexpressed about life, preferable I'd bring the ineffable to the page in some startling new way that would bring me the awe of writers I admired. And through all of this confusion about why I was writing each piece, I hadn't even yet found the vehicles my voice was suited for--personal essays and memoir.
In the past year, I've become acutely aware of my competing needs as a writer. I want to make money (there I said it). I want to express what has not been expressed. I want to write work that expands hearts and minds. I want peers to "get" and--I admit it--admire my work. But, I realize that if I'm making a living as a writer and writing teacher (which I am! a dream come true!), every writing task will be addressing at least one of my goals, but no writing task will address all of them. I write articles for money for match.com. I don't expect them to be poetry or to win awards for them. I'm writing another book--it's a ton of work and who knows what the money will be--but it's my book and I get to say exactly what I want in it, just the way I want to say it. Delicious.
When you approach a writing task, ask yourself: What am I hoping to get from this? The love of my mother? a big check? small check? a publication credit? a chance to create a literary vision? the thrill of a byline? a bigger audience? All of these goals are legitimate, but no writing task--don't matter how great a writer you are--can meet every goal. It's okay to write for money and it's okay to write for love. It's very rare to write for both at the same time. And, it's a ton easier to find the words if you know why you're looking for them.