I manage my son’s 11-12 year old baseball team. One of the things I preach to them every time we practice is that everything they do should be done with a purpose. If we’re stretching before the practice starts, I stress to them that it is important to actually do the stretches – and do them correctly – because there are several purposes to them: to warm up the muscles, to increase range of motion, to prevent injuries (especially now that they are “getting old”), to build strength and endurance, etc. In fact, if they do it incorrectly, they could hurt themselves before they even start practicing. I try to end every practice with a fun game as well, but I’ve explained to the kids that even these games are designed with a specific purpose in mind.
The bottom line in this for me is that if you’re not doing something with a purpose or goal in mind… why are you doing it?
Writing is the same way. When I started writing back when I was about 6 years old, my purpose was basic: to tell a story. There was no other purpose and writing was about as important to me as playing with blocks or Star Wars action figures. But soon after – and especially when I got into high school – I was writing as a means of keeping my emotions under control. What I mean is that I could put my fears or my anger or my feelings of unrequited love into a poem or story I’d write out in the privacy of my own room each night. In doing so, I could avoid these words spilling out in the middle of a high school hallway or at lunch. I could turn them into a creative outlet that I would tuck away safely in a binder that no one else would ever read, or into a story that I could share with others for purposes of entertainment. Either way, my purpose was to control or understand the thoughts and feelings going through my teenaged mind at a time when pretty much nothing else in my life felt like it was actually under my control. At this time, I wrote every day. There were no exceptions to this. It might have been one sentence or it might have been 10,000 words… but writing happened every single day.
When I went to college, writing became less of an outlet for me and more for entertainment. I wrote short stories with the specific goal of entertaining my friends. My best efforts came at my highest levels of stress – in one instance I was so frustrated after a night class that I came back to my dorm, threw my books across the room, flopped onto the bed and started just spouting off gibberish which happened to rhyme. My roommate, being well aware of my writing habits, noticed it and started writing down the nonsense I was spewing. It turned into a very entertaining story in a similar style to Dr. Seuss, only with a bit more violence. The story had absolutely no literary value to it, but it allowed me to blow off steam and also entertain my roommate and others. (Years later, my roommate sent me an illustrated copy of it, as he had kept a copy of the text for himself and still found it entertaining.) What you should take from this is that my purpose for writing had changed and gotten a little bit more ambiguous: to entertain myself and my friends. As a result, I wrote when I felt like it or when friends or the situation demanded it.
In subsequent years and especially in recent years I’ve found myself to be seeking a purpose for my writing. I could say my goal is to write for the enjoyment of writing or even to entertain others, but I’m not passionate about those phrases. Yes, I do enjoy writing and I do like entertaining others with my writing, but these reasons aren’t compelling me to write. And so I don’t write with any regularity and when I do write it is generally “because I should.” And that is not a purpose.
I think it’s okay that my purposes and goals for writing have changed over the years. The problem is the complete lack of a purpose I have with it today. When I was writing with regularity, my writing blog got a lot of traffic and there were even some folks who anticipated my regular Sunday posts of a new story (I remember a post on Facebook where someone said they were “kicking back with a cup of coffee, waiting for the notification email from Rob’s blog”). Since I have not been writing regularly, the readership on my blog has disappeared (understandably). So that is where I am going to set my goal: to rebuild the readership of my writing blog. The purpose of each writing session becomes entertainment for myself and others, with each individual piece becoming an exercise toward that. Hopefully, it will lead to more situations where people are anticipating my next story.
What about you? When you write, do you have a purpose in mind for it? What keeps you going and working on your craft?