Why You Should Write for Meaning, Not Fame

Why You Should Write for Meaning, Not Fame

Why You Should Write for Meaning, Not Fame

Posted on 01/17/2017 Evan Swensen
Why You Should Write for Meaning, Not Fame

Writing from the heart produces better books—period.

Picture fame. What does it look like? Money? A placard with your name on it? A shoutout in Publisher’s Weekly? Bragging to strangers at parties? Try to read the first page of the book that got you there. Can you?

Probably not.

Now, picture the first page of your favorite novel. Think first of the setting, the plot, and the characters. Fill in the details of the opening scene–for example, the winter air turning a child’s cheeks pink, the not-so-distant dinner stewing on his mother’s stove, the faint growling of a tiny tummy. Think about the author writing that scene. Imagine why they wrote it. Were they hungry at the time? Cold? Nostalgic about their childhood?

Feel your heart beating in your chest? That’s what writing your own book should be like–and with good reason.

It takes more than “wanting to be a famous writer” or “wanting to make money” to actually write a “good” book. In fact, wanting to make money is probably the worst reason to write a book. After all, according to a 2004 Nielsen Bookscan report, only 25,000 books out of 1.2 million books tracked sold more than 5,000 copies. That’s a success rate of around just 2 percent. According to Publisher’s Weekly in 2006, the average book sells less than 500 copies.

Grim statistics aside, there is an indescribable feeling that comes with writing from the heart. Not only will you be more motivated to write if you are enjoying the content and find an actual meaning in the words outside of fame or fortune, your book will probably be better for it.

Consider A.A. Milne, author of the famous Winnie-the-Pooh children’s books. Following the age-old advice to “write what you know,” Milne modeled the character of Christopher Robin after his own son. While one might imagine Milne was overjoyed by the response to his Pooh books, the truth was actually quite the opposite. He actually loathed the idea of writing more due to popular demand. He was adamant that he had no intention of producing any unoriginal manuscripts because one of his sources of inspiration, his son, was growing older. Milne went on to write many more Screenplays, poetry, and story collections after writing his four Winnie-the-Pooh books. Simply put, he wrote for meaning, not fame.

When writing your own book, think about something that inspires you or a question you want to know the answer to. Perhaps it’s a problem that you’ve dealt with for many years, or a challenge that you have overcome. Whatever the topic is, your writing will benefit if it comes from the heart.

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