Why We Write: Book Review

Why We Write - Meredith MaranWhy We Write – Book Review

Editor Meredith Maran has compiled a peek behind the curtain of some of the world’s best writers in her book, Why We Write.

She secured 20 acclaimed authors to share their thoughts on how and why they do what they do. Each of the authors has written a short chapter talking about their careers coupled with a few words of wisdom.

The Contributors

You might have heard of some of these contributors to Why We Write:

  • Isabel Allende
  • Michael Lewis
  • Susan Orlean
  • Ann Patchett
  • Jodi Picoult
  • David Baldacci
  • Sebastian Junger
  • Walter Mosley
Meredith Maran
Credit: Lisa Keating Photography


There are a number of key themes that are repeated throughout this book. These include:

  • Treating writing as a business
  • There are plenty of good times and probably more bad times
  • A personal need to write – most expressed it as: “I can’t not write.”
  • Finding their own way forward in terms of what to write about and how to get it done
  • Writing a great book first and writing for others last.

For me, these four thoughts stood out:

1 Be Original

“You have to push yourself to think profoundly and imaginatively about what something looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like. You have to push yourself to find powerful, original ways of describing things. If you can do that, and if you have good rhythm in your sentences, people will read everything you write and beg for more.”

Sebastian Junger, author The Perfect Storm, P104

2 When to Write

“Write even when you don’t feel like writing. There is no muse. It’s hard work. You can always edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.”

Jodi Picoult, author numerous best selling books with film/TV adaptations P202

3 Why We Write

“Don Quixote thinks he’s setting out to save something, but what he’s really doing, as Cervantes follows him along, is finding out how the world works in comparison to how he thought it worked from reading his beloved romances. The whole point of Don Quixote is to show the conflict between what he thought was true and what he learns when he goes out there. It’s not only a seminal work, it’s the seminal motive for writing a novel.”

Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize winning author, P206-7

4 Is it any good?

And I had to laugh at this one…

“I was writing it in the winter in this little office in our new house in Ames, Iowa. I kept falling asleep as I wrote. I put the manuscript aside, thinking it must be really boring. Then spring came and I reread it, and it seemed pretty good.

“It turned out the chimney of the furnace was leaking carbon monoxide. When we stopped using the furnace, the novel stopped putting me to sleep. The lesson there is, sometimes it’s not as bad as you think.”

Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize winning author, talking about the writing of her book A Thousand Acres, P212

Read Why We Write if…

Read Why We Write if you want an injection of motivation for your writing. We all have ebbs and flows of interest and energy, this book will help you realize that the path ahead is tough and worthwhile – regardless of whether the book you write sells lots or a little.

More: Our list of Best Books for Writers and Authors


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