You don’t have to be selfish to be a writer

writing life

image source: licensed under Creative Commons


Writing is a selfish act. Writers lock themselves away, often for long periods of time, day after day while you live other people’s lives. Even when they are with loved ones, their thoughts are often elsewhere. Writers can very easily stop participating in life and instead become an observer, separating themselves from others to better capture the big picture, or the tiniest, most pertinent detail.

It takes writers a long time to write a book, hundreds of hours of solid effort to craft and shape their story so that it comes close to the image in their mind. For writers of a series, those hundreds of hours can turn into thousands of hours, often spread over many years, if not decades, of time. Most writers, even traditionally published writers, have jobs on top of their writing, so their writing time battles with time spent with loved ones, friends, or pursuing hobbies they may enjoy. The struggle between the need to create and the need to have a life is one all writers understand all too well.

Then there is the time needed for promotion. Blogging, social media, managing adverts, sending out review requests, taking part in interviews; the list goes on and on, all eating into that precious commodity, a writer’s time.

It’s no wonder people see writers as selfish people.

But it’s been my experience that writers can be the most giving, considerate and empathetic of people.

Writers understand more than anyone how tough writing can be and love to support other writers, whether that is to provide helpful tips, to beta read or critique the work of their peers, or to simply provide encouragement when a fellow writer is feeling low.

Writers are also readers. The most amazing thing about writers is that most don’t see other writers as competitors, but as brothers-in-arms. Clever writers think nothing of promoting books we’ve read and loved by our fellow authors, because they know that promoting good books helps all writers, not just the author in question.

Great writers celebrate the successes of other writers because they know just how much work has gone into creating that success.

Just because writing is a selfish task, it doesn’t mean writers have to be selfish people. What kind of writer do you want to be?


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27 thoughts on “You don’t have to be selfish to be a writer

  1. Could not agree more. It’s all about solidarity. Building supportive networks of fellow writers ultimately they become friends you know – and what better than a group of friends with similar interests I constantly feel guilty for the amount of time I spend writing you end up feeling like a bad parent worker wife and writer because you can’t dedictate enough time to any one activity, and when you do you feel bad.

    • One of the best things for me about this whole journey had been the love and support shown by many in the writing community. That’s why I try my best to pay it back. If it hadn’t been for some very kind, considerate people, I wouldn’t have written one book, let alone now be on my third.
      As for your other point, I am a card carrying member of The Guilty Writers Society. If it’s not about friends and family, it’s about how much more money I could be earning doing something else. However, it’s a price I’m willing to pay because the job satisfaction from writing is like nothing else I’ve done.

      • That’s an actual thing? The guild of guilty writers? I need to join!

        I have to say one of the best bits of blogging for me is how many people I’ve met, and the community I feel like I’m beginning to be a part of. It’s so lovely to learn from and understand writing from other people’s perspective.especially because everyone is so willing to help 😄

  2. Dylan… selfish? Not a bit of it. You are the most unselfish, helpful and generous of writers and that too, is what I strive to be. I don’t see other writers as ‘the competition’, and ‘brothers-in-arms’ (ahem… or sisters) is a great description. What’s special about knowing and sharing with other writers is the bond of understanding. We all know how difficult and challenging it is; we all see the madness in ‘needing’ to write; we all empathise with the emotional ups-and-downs of the experience and the crises of confidence. That’s what turns an essentially solitary preoccupation, weirdly, into a social one.

    • I was wondering if anyone was going to pick me up on ‘brothers-in-arms’ … 😉
      Thank you for your kind words, I’m now blushing. The writing community is incredibly supportive and I think social media has been a boon to writers in that respect.

  3. I certainly hope I’m not seen as selfish. I love writing and it can be solitary work, but I still enjoy talking to writers/readers/people in general and sharing my ideas with them. Writing isn’t my main job so it gives me a chance to spend time with others instead of writing to meet a deadline, but sometimes it also means I’ll have to use my few hours of freedom typing away. So far those around me have understood this and supported me, and I’m glad. I have to say that ever since I started blogging, I’ve become more and more convinced that writers can be the most selfless and helpful people around, ready to give tips and advice to those just starting out.

    • That’s why I wanted to differentiate between the selfish act of writing (although this is no different from any other solo pursuit), and the generosity of writers. I think most writers are happy to support those starting out because we’ve all been there. Also, one of the strange aspects of writing is that each new book is almost like starting over again, so in some respects we’re all in the same boat and want to help each other out.

  4. I see writers more as loners than selfish. We seal ourselves off from others and risk alienating those around us. But I suppose that can be said for any occupation. We all have to remember there’s a world going on around us. (Even though some days it’s tempting to hide from it!)

    • I think there’s definitely a case that to be a writer, it helps to be a loner (or at least comfortable spending time alone). You’re right, remembering there is still a world going on around us is very important!

  5. I’ve always thought that, in order to write a book that captures someone’s interest and emotions, you need to have a pretty good idea what WILL capture interests and hearts–thus, you need to be pretty empathetic to write well. So it makes a lot of sense that good writers would be supportive writers–they remember what it’s like to struggle, and want to do what they can to help.

    Excellent post, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately myself. Thanks for writing! 🙂

    • Thank you. To me, what you say makes sense. I was talking to a friend the other day who’s an actor, and we saw a lot of similarities between acting and writing, the need to get fully into character to do (or write) your best work. That said, we all know of actors (and writers) who are divas, so being empathetic and being selfish aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Thankfully, though, these are the exceptions 🙂

  6. Great post!! I don’t think writers are selfish, I just think they are daydreamers who have found a way to channel what others see as sitting idly around, into something beautiful, into something with meaning. Writers are not black and white thinkers, they see all the colors of the spectrum, they smell the fragrances, analyze the associated sounds and are constantly looking for the things nobody else seems to notice. It seems like everyone kind of isolates themselves today, by either looking at their cellphones, watching TV, playing video games – but writers interact with one another by sharing ideas, thoughts, concerns, accomplishments – and that is so cool! (And the families of writers don’t have to try and figure out what they are talking about anymore, because the writer just shares it with other writers.)

    • I was really hoping that a writer would come on here and comment that no, they were a selfish son of a bitch and proud of it, and it was an essential part of being a writer. Sadly that hasn’t happened yet!
      I agree that writers are daydreamers that channel their dreams into something productive (and hopefully beautiful). I always used to get picked up by friends for ‘zoning out’, when all I was doing was laying to a little scene in my head sparked by something I’d seen or heard.

      • Me too. I have report cards from boarding school that say, “Sparky is such a lovely child, but she does have a tendency to daydream.” Maybe none of the selfish writers blog – it is beneath them.

  7. Reblogged this on Writing Rachael Ritchey and commented:
    I love how Suffolk Scribblings put my scattered thoughts into words. Sometimes I feel very selfish when I write, but I hope you know, that’s far from true in most ways. Yes, there is a hint of it, but only just. Have a great day, friends!

  8. You captured my thoughts so perfectly. I struggle to balance my time writing with my desire to maintain a thread of connection to the “real” world. Other writers understand; they most definitely are “brothers and sisters in arms.” I’ve found nothing but supportive advice, encouragement, promotion, and celebration from the vast community of writers around the globe.

    • I’m completely in agreement with you. There are lots of way us writers can support each other, exposure on each other’s blogs being one, so thank you for the very kind open offer!

  9. I think all of us who are writers love a good story, and want to make sure there are as many of them out there as possible. 🙂 Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Dylan!

  10. Pingback: Before the edit starts | Suffolk Scribblings

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