Writing Prompt: Why Do You Write?

During the beginning of her classes, one of my root yoga teachers often asks her students why: “Why do you practice? Why do you show up? What is it you care about?” She asks us to get to the “root of the root” of our intention. Often, when she asks this, I grow anxious and uncomfortable, not wanting to dive in too deep (perhaps my resistance is my fear of “taking in the good,” as we explored a few weeks ago).

And it’s not just intention-setting; she challenges the future yoga teachers she trains to ask why when building their sequences, to ensure their classes are safe and functional. I’ll be honest, as a rookie yoga teacher, sometimes I don’t know why I put a particular pose in my own sequences. I do it because I like the pose and feel comfortable teaching it, not necessarily because it’s aligned with my intention for the class, theme, or the peak pose I’m leading my students toward. This preliminary step is a great exercise in keeping me in check. 

Similarly, in her new book Everything Is Figureoutable, Marie Forleo encourages her readers to get clear on why they want a certain goal.

“List as many whys as you can, then for every why you generate, dig deeper. Ask yourself, ‘And why is that important?’ Then ask it again. ‘And why is that important? What will that ultimately do for me and others?’ Drill down several layers until you get to the core of why this dream matters and what you want to feel, experience, or share as a result of achieving it.” 

Marie Forleo, Everything Is Figureoutable

I also ask the writers I work with why they want to write – both in general and about specific projects they’re working on. It becomes clear to me, their editor, (and, most likely, will be just as obvious to readers) when they do not consider this crucial question.

For instance, I’ve been sharing some vulnerable reflections on Breathe Together Online, a digital magazine I recently helped my yoga studio launch. Had I written about these painful experiences as I was going through them, my intention might have been driven – or at the very least confused – by my ego (a desire for validation, revenge, attention, etc.), and my message would have been misguided and murky. I had to get clear that I wanted my past to be an offering for anyone who might be struggling like I was then. This is probably why it took me so long to share it; I had to heal those wounds and parts of myself first before I could write from a true place of service.  

In her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg has an essay titled “Why Do I Write?” Here are some of her reasons:

  1. “Because I’m a jerk. 
  2. Because I want the boys to be impressed. 
  3. So my mother will like me.
  4. So my father will hate me.
  5. No one listens to me when I speak.
  6. So I can start a revolution.
  7. In order to write the great American novel and make a million dollars.
  8. Because I’m neurotic.
  9. Because I’m the reincarnation of William Shakespeare.
  10. Because I have something to say.
  11. Because I have nothing to say.” 

She continues,

“Writing has tremendous energy. If you find a reason for it, any reason, it seems that rather than negate the act of writing, it makes you burn deeper and glow brighter on the page. Ask yourself, ‘Why do I write?’ or ‘Why do I want to write?,’ but don’t think about it. Take pen and paper and answer it with clear, assertive statements. Every statement doesn’t have to be 100 percent true and each line can contradict the others. Even lie if you need to, to get going. If you don’t know why you write, answer as though you do know why.”

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

This is the prompt I offered writers to explore last week. No matter what type of project you’re working on – a chapter in your book, a manuscript, an article for a journalism outlet, copy or content writing for your business – it’s worthwhile to examine your intention or the goal you’re working toward.

A couple suggestions:

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Practice “stream of conscious” writing, and allow yourself to write whatever comes to mind and wants to be expressed through you.
  • Remember: There is no wrong answer. But, in order to get where you’re going, it’s essential to know why you want to get there.
  • Whatever your reason, your readers will feel the intention behind it. 
  • Similar to the meditation we’ve been exploring, check in with your head, heart, and gut. Are their motives similar or different? Listen to what each has to say, and, rather than trying to change their responses, get curious about a way they all can cooperate and work together. 

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