What’s the Value of Writing?



Ah, the inherent and ageless need to scribble


The facts regarding how much money writers earn when they self-publish, as opposed to getting their books brought to print (or placed online) through a traditional publisher, are in.  The report titled What Advantage Do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors: A Comparison of Traditional and Indie Publishing from the Authors’ Perspective includes potentially dismal news that twenty percent of both traditional and self-published authors make no money. None. About 55 percent of self-published, and 35 percent of traditionally published, authors earn up to $1,000 of writing income per year. A lot of work and a lot of writing earns very little. Only five percent of self-published authors earned more than $20,000 per year from their books, whereas 20 percent of traditionally published authors earned alike. Which leads to a basic question:

What’s the point of writing?

If we’re not earning a decent enough slice of the financial pie to keep us financially afloat – why write?

Here are a few reasons – based on my own decades of spending dozens of hours per month (sometimes per week) writing:

1. Writers can’t stop writing. Honestly. They love it. We love it. The desire to transmit information and stories is in our genetic code. We do it because we love words, chapters, and stories. We love paper and pens, or tapping keyboards. It’s expression, art, exposition, catharsis, communication.

2. Writing helps organize our thoughts. It helps provide our own minds with clear, distinct images we can later recall to tell an animated story or describe a clear process – whether we’re in a bar, restaurant, home, or hiking on a mountain trail. Our verbal stories, shaped first by writing, gain focus.


Late night bookstores satisfy Icelanders’ appetite for the printed word (literacy rate is 99 % )


3. Being published provides credibility. I published a book about rivers and was paid as a guest speaker in several different parts of the U.S., interviewed by dozens of radio stations, and hired as an eco-cruise ship onboard ‘historian.’ Self-publishing is now well respected, and a well-finished product demonstrates both an individual’s initiative as well as their ability to achieve the multitude of tasks needed to publish a book.

4. Writing expands our world. I spent vacations exploring Ireland, Italy, France, and over a dozen countries to research new books to write. There’s also plenty to explore in your own town or state or country. The process of gathering and organizing information alters your life. It also puts you in contact with people you would not have met otherwise.

7-09 Bernina  (53)

There is  a story down every pathway


5. Assembling a book instructs us about our world and people. Assembling a book about wine introduced me to dozens of characters in locations I’d never heard of before. Their stories shared a common theme: overcoming unusual forms of adversity to realize a dream. From these episodes I learned about humility and dedication, as well as how every individual is valuable.

6. Writing teaches us the rewards of dedication, and how concentration can result in quality. In college I once spent a summer working the night shift in a furniture factory, belt sanding tables. I learned how focused effort transformed rough slabs of wood into smooth and elegant table tops. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was right when he said that all writing is basically carpentry. When I later began writing books, I recalled those nights with a belt sander, and once spent hours revising one paragraph. It was worth it. To this day, the sound of that paragraph is music. It takes effort and dedication to provide a product that satisfies an audience – whether they are buying furniture, clothing, or stories.

7. Writing changes how we organize thoughts, hence our lives. Even sporadically writing a journal helps clarify thinking. Studies show that when jobless individuals write about their job- hunting frustrations, they end up getting jobs more quickly. Perhaps the process of mentally clarifying obstacles helps these individuals to better decide how to tackle them.

That’s powerful.

And – now and then – when a reader compliments a piece we write, it somehow all becomes worth it.


Comments from Readers

  • Somewhat depressing statistics, but good to explore why we do it, and spend so much damn time doing it! For me, there’s a quote by G K Chesterton which I love, it pinpointed exactly what writing (or filmmaking, or cartooning, or whatever) is to me:

    “The original quality in any man of imagination is imagery. It is a thing like the landscape of his dreams; the sort of world he would like to make or in which he would like to wandeR.”

    Great stuff!

  • Tom

    Indeed! Your grandfather – my dad – used to listen to GK Chesterton speak at the University of Notre Dame. I used to watch the ‘Father Brown’ detective series on British TV as a lad, based on his writings. I also think what helps fuel inner imagery is traveling, and being exposed to raw, gorgeous geography, and new sights….Thanks for the inspiring input.

  • Right on, tom. Write on!
    This and your frequent FB posts have inspired me to spend more time writing and reading and traveling.

  • Tom

    Great Chris! It was you who inspired me to keep doing what I love – writing. I still have copies of 9th grade English books! And memories of reading Of Mice and Men, as well as To Light a Fire….And you appear to be doing plenty of travel…glad you enjoyed.

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