Knowing Your Why… Or Not

A popular piece of advice I hear from bloggers is that you need to know your “why,” or the motivation behind why you create. I am going to butt heads with this piece of advice because I do not believe that this is true for creators and here’s why.

Why you create

If you ask yourself, “Why do I write?” or “Why do I draw?” the answer will come down to “because I like it.”

At some point in your life, someone introduced you to your craft and you discovered an aptitude for it or simply an enjoyment of it. You became an creator when you discovered your art and pursued it. Unless you are in an unlikely situation where someone is forcing you to do your art, I can assume you like it and want to continue doing it.

Reasons versus missions 

Now, the word “why” is an interrogative that asks “for what reason?” and we already established that the reason most creators create is because they like it—which isn’t particularly earth-shattering. There is another other side to the word “why” that asks “for what purpose or cause?”

I assume that most bloggers who talk about knowing your why are referring to knowing the purpose of your craft or having a purpose for it to begin with. This is where the word “mission” comes into play.

Reasons and missions are two branches of “whys” and reasons always come first. The only case where the mission would come first (making your reason and mission the same) is if you created a mission and then learned a new skill to fulfill that, which is possible but unusual, especially for young creators.

Artistic missions should come from the heart

Everyone who creates will always have the bare bones because-I-like-it reason, but not everyone will have a mission for their art and they do not need one.

As a Christian, I believe it is important to commit my writing to God because He is the Creator and it belongs to Him. Committing my writing to God is more of an act of worship than an artistic mission. Examples of artistic missions are sharing the gospel, bringing awareness to a cause, or writing quality fiction without objectionable content.

I think artistic missions are good, but if you decide to create one it should come from what is already in your heart. I do not believe in forcing your art to fit a mission. Why? Because if you are creating from an authentic heart, your art will always and inevitably reflect what you believe. This is why we have to guard our hearts, because everything we do flows from it.

You should also know that it is biblically valid to enjoy something. Look what it says in Ecclesiastes 11:9-10—

You who are young, be happy while you are young,
and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
God will bring you into judgment.

Ecclesiastes 11:9-10 (NIV)

We still need to have moral understanding and boundaries between good and evil, but we can enjoy things!

Why not?

When I was nine years old, I wrote a story about cats who took a trip to a cabin in the mountains. They had fun, pranked their neighbors, and then rode a sled that was so awesome they launched into orbit and landed on the moon. 

If you had asked nine-year-old me, “Why are you writing about cats on the moon?” I probably would have stared at you for a bit and then said, “Why not?” 

In terms of artistic missions, I do not have a “why.” I have a “why not?” Why not write about cats on the moon? Why not write about Christianity? Why not write stories about an invisible girl?

As creators, I think our “why nots?” will guide us more than our “whys.” Speaking practically, there have been times when I am writing I have asked myself “why not?” and have had a good reason not to write something. I have left some articles unpublished because I did not like the tone I was writing with.

For me, this is why a “why not?” is better than a “why” or artistic mission. I do not believe I would not have reached the same conclusion to guard myself against self-important writing if I had based it off of a “why,” but I know when a piece does not fit my “why not?”

Summary

“Knowing your why” is a silly piece of advice for creators because:

  1. Your reason for creative work is because you discovered it and loved it.
  2. This advice is typically for those who have artistic missions for their work.
  3. Artistic missions are only good if they are born from a place of authenticity. However, it is also biblically valid to enjoy something within good moral boundaries.
  4. Emily is a wildcard and thinks knowing your “why not” is better than your “why” because it sets clearer rules for what not to create and leaves the door wide open for everything else.

I hope you enjoyed reading my perspective! What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Knowing Your Why… Or Not

  1. Eliana the Writer November 8, 2021 / 5:50 pm

    Very interesting thoughts! And “why not?” is such a fun perspective. XD My aunt (the one who is writing a fantasy series) actually claims she doesn’t like writing and that only does it out of loyalty to her characters in her head. Does that foil some of your argument?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily November 8, 2021 / 9:14 pm

      Thank you! 😊

      Interesting. I guess not everyone likes the process, but your aunt still chose (assuming she had a choice) to write about the characters instead of painting or sculpting them, so she must like writing to some extent.

      Like

      • Eliana the Writer November 9, 2021 / 10:48 am

        Yeah, I guess so! She definitely likes stories and reading.

        Like

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