Image by Gerd Altmann (stock image)

My apologies if you read that headline, clicked the link, and expected to find a quiz where you could select a few images to find out which author you most closely resemble. This question can’t be resolved with a few clicks.

Perhaps you think the question irrelevant. You write; therefore, you are. You don’t have to answer to anyone but your muse (and hopefully an understanding editor and 10K of adoring fans). Why does this matter?

Most writers I know measure themselves by some success-driven metric: the number of short stories they have published in anthologies, the number of books they have written, the number of followers on Twitter. But writing is more than a pass/fail experiment. If you want writing to be a satisfying, affirming process, then spare a few minutes to consider your goals and why you write.

Many of us would probably say we want to be a best-selling author with rights to our novels licensed to highly successful Hollywood franchises. The reality is far more sobering. According to the May 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics, authors and writers made an average of $73,000 a year or $35.14 an hour. Before you celebrate with a Snoopy dance, consider the fact that this is only the 45,000 people in the United States who listed themselves as authors on their tax returns.

Consider my experience. This year I have published three things and my “income” is less than $100. However, I have not reported this, nor have I listed my occupation as writer on my tax returns, which means my meager earnings have not been considered in the above estimate. Chances are, the bureau’s report represents only the most financially successful writers on the market. The rest of us probably earn less than minimum wage with our craft.

Putting this depressing reality aside for a moment, there are many other legitimate reasons for writing. Here are just a few:

  • Expand existing worlds: There are a lot of writers who specialize in fan fiction. Before you dismiss them as talentless hacks, you may want to consider the millions of fans who read this genre. Even an average writer can develop a readership in the thousands. If you want to find readers who appreciate your words, this is a viable option.
  • Create new worlds: Even if our worlds are not discovered by others, there is something satisfying about creating a culture, inhabiting it with meaningful characters, and watching them mess up their lives. When we build new worlds through fiction, we can correct wrongs we see in real life or invent even worst atrocities. The process of world creation deepens our critical thinking and helps us see our own world in a new light. If you want to understand your world, build a new one.
  • Inspire other writers: Although our ideas may not find mainstream success, we can create narratives that move a genre in a new direction. One flash fiction or short story in the right market may inspire a new line of novels from an established author or inspire other writers to focus on the same topic. Outside of fiction, there are plenty of blogs and podcasts that help writers hone their craft. If you want to be thought-provoking, even small markets and shorter works can accomplish this.
  • Heal yourself: Writing can help us confront the worst events in our lives. The act of writing out what we are thinking can help us process the pain, and if not move on, find some measure of peace in what we’ve suffered. Even if you do not have a tragic backstory, you probably have weekly stress from that job you don’t love or those people who don’t love you as much as they should. If you see writing as a release, then write about your pain and failures. Nobody has to read these stories, but you may find that you still need to tell them.

The point here is to set goals based on who you are as a writer, not based on what you think others want you to be. Trust me, you’ll be a much happier writer if you figure out the answer to this question.