Why I Write (Four)

Hoping the computer will reel me in.Number four in my series ‘Why I Write’. I hope you’re enjoying hearing from other writers as much as I am. It’s going to be interesting to see what are the similarities and differences in the various writers’ responses.

Today I’m really pleased to have Jo Phillips as a guest writer. I ‘met’ Jo about two years ago when she emailed me about my experience of self-publishing Unravelling. She was beginning her publishing journey at the time and exploring the various options. She loved my book, so of course I loved her! More seriously, I’ve met her several times in real life since, and she is an incredibly warm and supportive writing friend – she helped me enormously with the publication of my little book ‘A Writer’s Alphabet’. She is also a talented and dedicated writer – in the last two years, she’s published three highly-successful novels, a novella and a collection of short stories, as well as working on an MA in creative writing.

Over to you, Jo: Joanne Phillips(1)

When Lindsay approached me and asked me to write a post for her new series, I agreed without even thinking about it. After all, it can’t be hard for a writer to talk about why they write. Can it?

Actually, it’s not hard at all – what is difficult is reining in my natural tendency to go all around the houses before getting to the point! So, to cut to the chase, here is my ‘author mission statement’ – something I wrote in 2012 after my first novel was published:

“I write stories to entertain, and to offer (the reader, and myself) a temporary escape into another life. I create interesting and engaging characters who may linger with you even after you’ve finished reading their stories. I write about characters who learn to examine their lives – their motivations, hopes and fears – and who find the courage to change. I write about the important stuff: life, love, loss and lies – including the lies we tell ourselves. And yes, I want my stories to change the world. A little tiny bit of it, anyway.”

The thing with affirmations (a mission statement is a bit like an affirmation, after all) is that they should be worded as though what you’re aiming for is already fact. These are my aims when I write; this is why I write. To touch people in the way I’ve been touched by wonderful books; to make people think, perhaps, about an aspect of their life they are struggling with. If I could have my entire career over again I would probably train as some type of counsellor – I have a kind of compulsion to help people sort themselves out. (Some might say: whether they want to be sorted out or not!)

I’ve always written fiction. I guess all children do at some point, and the vast majority of true writers continue to write their whole lives long, whether they have hope of publication or not. The other day I was chatting to a chick-lit author who said she only took up writing a couple of years ago; that it was as much a business decision as anything. I’ll confess, I was a little shocked! Of course, her love of writing must have been hiding, latent, waiting to pounce. But to me, since the moment I could scrawl my letters on the page, stories have been essential – writing has been something I just do, something I couldn’t not do. I write because I have to; I publish because I can.

About Jo:

Joanne Phillips lives in rural Shropshire with her husband and young daughter. She’s the author of romantic comedies Can’t Live Without  and The Family Trap, and the Flora Lively  series of contemporary romantic mysteries. Can’t Live Without was an Amazon top 100 bestseller in 2012 and her books regularly appear on category bestseller lists. Before becoming a writer, Joanne had jobs as diverse as hairdresser, air hostess and librarian, but now divides her time between writing, freelance indexing and finding creative ways to avoid housework. She’s also a big fan of super-dark chocolate, iced coffee and Masterchef. Joanne blogs about writing and publishing at www.joannephillips.co.uk

 

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9 Comments

  1. Maureen Hall says:

    I found the last comment very interesting: ‘I write because I have to’. I’ve heard this before from other writers, and it seems to be a compulsion that all ‘true writers’ have. There are those of us who are, like me, dilettante writers. We write because we enjoy it, and because we can, but we’re not fussed about publication and we can live without writing. But a REAL writer can’t NOT write: it’s a compulsion which drives them to interpret their world in words which reach out to others. This is the gift, but it can also be a curse, when the words won’t flow and the world combines against you and prevents you getting to the desk … Well done, Jo. Keep writing and publishing and spreading the joy!

  2. Christine Steenfeldt says:

    Thank you for this post, Jo. I found your reasons for writing resonating with me. Giving other people the sort of pleasure I’ve received from books over a lifetime of reading would probaly come high on the list, like you. Wanting, in some small way, to make someone see the world a little differently would be there too. I was interested in the comments of the chick lit author as the other day, I was pondering whether I would be more productive if I approached writing in a more businesslike manner- that is, writing something more likely to sell rather than writing what I wanted to write. The jury is still out on that!

  3. Thanks Maureen – I think you picked up on my true message. I’m so fortunate that I’ve found a way to reach readers, but even if I hadn’t I would still be writing. Jo without a book on the go is a very unhappy lady indeed! 🙂

  4. Hi Christine,
    You could try writing out your own ‘mission statement’ – it’s an interesting exercise in focusing the mind, and no one has to see it except you. On the other matter, it is a really tough one – if you want to chat about it further in a less public way please do email me: joannegphillips (at) gmail.com
    Jo x

  5. Terry Tyler says:

    Interesting reading – such a hard question to answer! You know I write all the time, at the expense of many things domestic (having an understanding spouse is very important!), social life, and – well EVERYTHING, just about. I think I just do it because I am happy when I do, and a bit on edge and ratty when I don’t. Few things frustrate me more than not being able to write when I want to, and I have to make myself not be really, really selfish with my time.

    I am fascinated by the writer who started doing it as a business enterprise – is she successful? I don’t suppose there’s any reason why she shouldn’t be – it’s as good a reason as any, and slightly refreshing after all the self-indulgent whimsical stuff that some writers spout about ‘their passion’ (a vastly over-used phrase!)

  6. Leanne Hunt says:

    Hi Jo, and thanks for this very inspirational piece! I too was struck by the last bit: “I write because I have to; I publish because I can.” This is my experience too, and I celebrate the fact that publishing is now a possibility. All those years of scribbling in a journal and tapping away at a computer keyboard, just to be disappointed that no-one would ever read what I cared so much to say. I actually did train as a counsellor, by the way, and I found it helped me get a bit more distance from my own issues. Counselling also exposes me to the inner thoughts and feelings of other people, which inevitably enriches me as a writer. Maybe one day you’ll find time.

  7. Hi Terry,
    You do have to be selfish with your time, don’t you? And I think it’s hard for writers who aren’t publishing, or doing something with their writing, to explain to family and friends why they spend so much time on it. But I’m like you – I get really ratty if I don’t have the time I need to work on projects, or when other things get in the way. And then, perversely (we’ve talked about this before) I sometimes find that when I do have time I start procrastinating!!! It’s very odd. But once I’m into my flow, or have written my way out of a problem, it’s all I want to do all of the time.

  8. Hi Leanne,
    It’s so interesting that you are a writer and a counsellor – I think the urge to understand human nature, and ourselves, better is probably very common to writers. Or certain types of writers, anyway. I did train as a life coach, and this is something I’m thinking of moving back into as a sideline to writing.
    I think that when you have something to say to the world it is a bit soul-destroying to think no one will ever read it, which is why we are so lucky that publishing has opened up – I love being indie and the freedom it brings. And just the thought that there are people out there reading your work is amazing – I never take that for granted. I recently reached 100,000 books in the hands of readers and I’m still slightly in shock at the magnitude of that. It’s very humbling. And I still remember very clearly how sick I felt when I pressed ‘publish’ for the very first time and sent my first novel out into the world – it also makes you feel very vulnerable 🙂
    Jo

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