Celebrating the National Day on Writing All Year Long: What, When and Why to Write

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Text messages, emails, facebook status updates, blog posts, not to mention more traditional types of writing like grocery lists, journal entries, novels, poems and hand-scrawled letters sent via snail mail—writing in some form is a part of most Americans’ daily lives, not just those Americans that would embrace the label of “writer.”

This Saturday, October 20th, 2012 will be the fourth National Day on Writing. Sponsored by NCTE or the National Council of Teachers of English (who else?), the main purpose of the event is to call our attention to the important role of writing (of all kinds) in our day-to-day lives and encourage us to write and enjoy the writing of others. But the existence of such an event raises a few questions: What do we write about? When can we find time to write? and last but not least, why bother writing at all?

What to Write About

English teachers and other experts are always fussing about writing what you know. Don’t confuse this warning with being limited to writing about what you personally have experienced. There are a lot of ways to “know” a subject—reading is great for this—and empathy works wonders for writing about all matter of things. Perhaps instead of worrying about writing about what you know, write about what you’re interested in, about what you feel passion for. Your enthusiasm for the subject matter will make your writing shine, and keep you interested enough to follow through, especially if you plan to write something long, like a novel.

As far as what genre to write in, my general suggestion to my fellow writers and myself is to write what you like to read. If you adore mysteries, chances are you’ve read enough of them to know how to structure a story in such a way to surprise mystery fans. By the same token, if you spend your spare time devouring poetry, it’s much more likely that you’ll think about the power of an image and what words will best capture the feeling it inspires.

Whatever you decide to write about, keep an open mind. Don’t limit yourself to one subject matter or one genre because it’s what you’ve always written or because it’s what first made you successful. Whatever your opinion is of prolific best-selling authors like Nora Roberts and James Patterson, many of them have had serious success in a variety of genres and I wouldn’t be surprised if part of what keeps them writing so constantly is being able to switch things up once in a while.

When to Write and Making Writing A Habit

Write when you feel like it. That’s it, I said it. You should definitely put words on paper when you feel inspired, take a moment and enjoy the call of the muse.

But be aware, that if you really want to do this writing thing, and pay it the respect it deserves as an art and a noble pursuit, you’ll have to write when you feel like it…and when you don’t. Making writing for writing’s sake a habit is difficult for most of us. Of course we text, we email, we tweet, but writing for the sheer joy of it…. that’s a tough one.

Studies show it takes at least two months to form a habit. So that means if you want to write on a regular basis you’ll need to keep up a scheduled routine for 8 weeks or more. The key to making the habit stick is making a reasonable commitment. Choose a time, a medium and place that are comfortable for you, and be realistic in your estimation of the amount of time you can commit to your writing “habit” (I have trouble with this part, myself).  Then all that’s left is to stick with it, until you write daily, at x time, on autopilot.

Just remember, everyone has off-days. If you miss a day, get up the next day and write as if you were there yesterday too, but in chair, typing away.

Why Write?

The most important question for writers and would-be writers is always “why write?” Why bother, when there are so many amazing words already out there, waiting to be read, and the general public reads less and less? Why write when the pay is miserable, and only your mom subscribes to your blog posts, anyway?

Write to remember and redefine who you are. Write because your thoughts and ideas are worth working out on paper. Write because you need someone to talk to, and paper listens with a patient ear. Write because you want to create something new and your own, or write, because you need to, to keep sane.

Write because you have something to say, and believe it or not, someone out there will need or want to hear it. While it may be true that everything worth saying has been said, that doesn’t mean that it’s been said the same way that you would say it, or that it’s been well understood or appreciated by every reader. Every writer has something different to offer and all writing serves a purpose: even if no one but the writer ever reads his words, the writer is communicating an important message to himself.

Written something lately? Share it with the world. Since this year’s Day on Writing is on Saturday, NCTE is suggesting writers share their words via Twitter on Friday October 19, using the hashtags #WhatIWrite and #dayonwriting.


Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by jjpacres.


  1. Anita

    Some good advice here, Chris.
    I especially agree with these sentiments:
    Write what you’re interested in.
    Write what you like to read, but don’t limit yourself.
    Write when you feel like it … and when you don’t.

    Time for me to get to it.

    1. Chris Ciolli (@ChrisCiolli)

      Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting, Anita. I know the feeling, it’s time for me to get to it, as well. Happy Sunday!

  2. Anjali Amit


    In asking “Why write?” you give all writers pause. Why do we write?

    You have listed many reasons why one puts pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, but the truest is the last sentence: “the writer is communicating an important message to himself.” All writing is cathartic, even if it is writing for the very young.
    Thanks for a great post.

    1. Chris Ciolli (@ChrisCiolli)

      Thanks for commenting and thanks for reading, Anjali. I agree, all writing is cathartic, and important for learning about yourself. Hope you found time to write today!

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