Do you ever find yourself asking WHY? No? Well, perhaps you should.
Let me introduce myself. I’m Charlie Fish, a writer of short stories and screenplays, and editor of Fiction on the Web, the longest-running short stories website on the Internet. My stories have been published in several countries and inspired dozens of short film adaptations.
OK. That introduction is great, but it’s a little dry, isn’t it? So, let me try again.
I’m Charlie Fish. I love stories that make me giggle (CLAM$ by Jeff Alphin), or sob (One Oh for Tillie by Tom Sheehan), or have nightmares (Stone by Matthew Kneale) – but above all I love stories that make me think. My proudest moments have been when my stories have evoked a visceral response. Like when someone told me Baggio's Story "changed me a little bit. Maybe a lot." Or "Killing Mildred made me laugh and then broke my heart." THAT's why I write.
That’s a better introduction, I think. The difference is that the first introduction focused on WHAT, the second on WHY.
You can probably have a whole career as an author without really examining WHY you write. But these days self-publishing and self-promotion is all the rage, so you’re going to have to be more than just a writer. You must make a brand of yourself – SELL yourself – whether it be on Smashwords, or on Patreon, or to an agent. And to do that, WHY is a profoundly useful tool.
Being a writer often means living in a constant state of doubt and uncertainty. Is this novel worthy? Which agent or journal should I submit to? Is self publishing a good idea? Will I ever be able to write something as good as X? Will Y seem horribly passé by the time it’s finished? Am I just making a giant fool of myself?
These are difficult questions. Questions that, if you’re not careful, will leave you with a trail of unfinished pieces on your hard disk, or trick you into writing what you think people want to hear rather than something that comes from you.
But if you can answer WHY you write, the rest of the answers become easy. More than that, it will suddenly become easier to find your audience. Everything flows from WHY.
So WHY do you write?
If you say “I write space operas,” that’s not enough. People will read Asimov or Niven or Simmons or Clarke instead. But if you say “The most precious thing in life to me is that precipitous sense of wonder you get from great science fiction – I write to create those moments,” that resonates much more deeply. People who feel the same way will reach out to you. To quote Simon Sinek, the goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.
And once you know WHY, everything else falls into place. Like, how should I promote myself? Well, if you write because your aunt was married to a spy and you think someone should tell her story, start with that. Tweet a video interview with her. Share your research notes. Or, if you write to make people laugh, start a joke-a-day blog. Offer joke rewards for patrons. By understanding WHY you write, you will naturally create a cohesive product that like-minded people will be compelled to buy into.
Now, here’s a secret. There’s a wonderful side effect to knowing WHY you write. It gives you AUTHORITY.
As a writer, you may not realize it, but you are already an expert in authority. That’s why you’re called an AUTHOR. The world in your stories, whether it’s fiction or fact, slasher horror or vampire erotica, is how it is because you say it is. You have the ultimate authority to create the world and direct the reader through it however you see fit.
Take this famous first line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” THAT’s authority. The author is guiding us through the world as she wants us to see it. We go along with it because she tells us to.
But exercising authority in your stories is different to having authority in the real world. You can write amazing stuff, but if someone asks you what you’ve written and you reply with hesitation and uncertainty they won’t be compelled to read.
If you reply with authority, they will go along with you. Knowing WHY you write gives you that real-world authority. It gives you confidence, purpose, brings people along with you. All the ingredients of authority. If you say, “I write to make people laugh,” it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People will laugh because you’ve told them to.
So, what about me, Charlie Fish?
Why do I write? Why do I run a short stories website? Why do I use Patreon? Why am I here?
For me, the answer to all of the above is the same. To connect with people. To share with people the things inside me, the things I feel, the things I love.
Visit Charlie Fish's FICTION on the WEB
Charlie Fish is a popular short story writer and screenwriter. His short stories have been published in several countries and inspired dozens of short film adaptations. Since 1996, he has edited www.fictionontheweb.co.uk, the longest-running short story site on the web. He was born in Mount Kisco, New York in 1980; and now lives in south London with his wife and daughters.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow me on Twitter @fishcharlie.