Every day, I see a slew of writing-related ads. Some guarantee that if you sign up for a “free” course (don’t read the fine print) you’ll sell a zillion books. Some offer to tweet for you and post Facebook ads for a (small/medium/large) monthly fee. There are publicists for hire, who promise to increase your visibility and help you sell more books. Then there are the thousands upon thousands of books on the craft of writing, often from people you’ve never read or heard of. There are also those offering editorial services, some of whom have no success to speak of in the book business. Finally, there are publishing companies that for $15-$20 grand and up will publish and promote your book.
Many of these ads and the people associated with them make me angry. I’m not saying there aren’t good folks out there who can genuinely help improve your writing and increase your sales. What I am saying is that those who can truly do so are few and far between.
But before we go any further, let’s be clear about one thing: You should NEVER pay to publish your book. The only exceptions are if you just want to do it for your family and friends, or consider it a lifelong goal no matter the cost.
With regard to editorial services, the overwhelming majority of writers use an editor. Well established authors use editors provided by their agents/publishers. Other authors, especially if they’re at an early stage in their careers, hire an editor for content and/or copyedit purposes. This is often crucial to the success of a book, for nothing turns readers off like disjointed plots, weak characters, grammar mistakes, and typos. In my humble opinion, if your book isn’t as close to perfect as you can get it, you have no business trying to sell it.
But it’s important to realize that an editor will not rewrite your book, nor can he or she guarantee it will get published. Furthermore, many editors charge the same fee regardless of how much editing your manuscript needs. I understand the reasoning here, from the perspective of the editor: some manuscripts require more work than others. Editors feel that by charging everyone the same rate, often a flat fee per page, everything evens out. And it does…for them, not the writer.
Beware of editors who offer little feedback. From the outset be clear as to the type and amount of feedback you expect. Here you really can’t be too cautious. Most editors will provide a sample edit of a chapter or a few pages. This is great; just make sure you’re satisfied with the sample and hold the editor responsible for being as diligent throughout the entire project.
Once you’re published, there are a plethora of services that offer to plaster social media with ads about your book. In my experience, ads on Facebook and Twitter do poorly. I have over 20,000 followers on Twitter and I could probably count on two hands the number of books I’ve sold that way.
Facebook and Twitter ads, however, provide some visibility. But I recommend you do your own posting, especially since you probably won’t sell too many books this way. Learn to use Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, or a similar program that will help you do it yourself. The same goes for publicists. Unless the person is well established—and if he or she is, you can expect to pay out the wazoo—you can do many things a publicist does. You can contact radio programs and blogsites, send out review copies, schedule some appearances and signings at bookstores, etc.
I’m skeptical of people who offer courses/insider tips on writing/marketing, especially if they charge for them. I don’t believe there are any tricks to writing/marketing. In fact, everything I’ve learned in the past several years can be summed up this way: Write the greatest book you possibly can—good is no longer enough—and then start writing the next one.
How do you write the greatest book you possibly can? Well, you start by reading great books—and poems, and stories, and plays, and screenplays, and non-fiction—and writing as often as you can. In terms of books on the craft, there are so many I fear some authors are trying to cash in on the insecurities we writers have by writing books that allegedly help, but often divert us from the one thing that will definitely improve our writing—namely, writing. That having been said, there are a handful of writing resources I wouldn’t do without. If you’re interested in hearing my recommendations, please contact me and I’ll be happy to share.
Okay, without further ado, I present my #1 tip for authors trying to market their great books and for readers who want to read them: BOOKBUB!
If you are a reader, you should really consider signing-up for Bookbub. It’s free, and every day you’ll receive an email blast letting you know about great discounted e-books in your chosen categories. You can get books for free, $0.99, $1.99, or $2.99. As a reader, I think it’s the greatest thing since pizza (or whatever food happens to be your weakness).
If you’re an author marketing a book, I don’t think anything beats Bookbub. You have to apply to get accepted, but applying is free. It’s tough to get approved, but you can keep applying if you get rejected, and you only pay if you’re accepted. Costs vary according to your genre and the price at which you want to sell your book (the free option is the least expensive, followed by $0.99, $1.99, and $2.99). Click here for a chart that gives you a general idea of the cost. If your book is accepted as a featured promotion, it will appear for one day in Bookbub’s daily e-mail blast. In terms of marketing / advertising it is the only thing that I’ve found truly effective (and I’ve tried just about everything). Trust me when I say the results, in terms of sales, will probably astound you.
Well, that’s it, friends. There you have my #1 tip for writers and readers and it hasn’t cost you a penny.
Please let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to hear about your writng/reading/marketing experiences!
All the best,
What is Our Role as Fiction Writers?
I used to ponder the utility of fiction. My view was partly predicated on my training as a political scientist, but it was also because I found non-fiction much more interesting than any made-up story. A majority of my reading for the past several years has been non-fiction, and I often prefer documentaries to movies and true-life crime shows to murder mysteries.
But I write fiction now, and so unless I concede that what I write is useless, which I can’t or won’t do, then it must be the case that made-up stories have some real-world significance. The question becomes just what form that takes.
But before attempting to answer the question of just what the role of a writer is, two points are in order. First, I’m only considering writing that is meant for public consumption. Second, the categories discussed below are not presented in any particular order, nor are they meant to be mutually exclusive.
In order to figure out our role as writers, we should first try to understand why people read fiction in the first place. One reason, perhaps the most popular, is entertainment. Another reason is to better understand the thoughts, experiences, beliefs, and psychology of others. Some might find that reading fiction also increases their creativity. Finally, people might turn to fiction as a way of learning about different things. This is especially true of historical fiction, as some folks find reading straight, non-fiction history a veritable snooze-fest.
There are countless other reasons why a person might pick up a novel, but these will suffice for now. So getting back to our original question, what is our role as fiction writers?
First and directly related to the above, we are storytellers and providers of entertainment. The value people place on escaping from reality is enormous, as evidenced by the astronomical incomes of the top entertainers in our society. While this is particularly true of actors and sports figures, authors like Stephen King, James Patterson, and J.K. Rowling have incomes that would make Midas blush. Consequently, some argue that our role as writers is to entertain the most people we can, as measured particularly by book sales and incomes.
This is perhaps the most popular role of the fiction writer, but there are others. Some writers consider increasing awareness and understanding of a particular character/viewpoint crucial. I attempt to do this in Conversations Among Ruins, where the male protagonist is dual diagnosed (i.e., suffers from a mood disorder and chemical dependency), a perspective/illness not often portrayed in novels. Presenting the viewpoints of underrepresented voices in fiction can help increase understanding of marginalized peoples. Understanding can promote empathy and empathy is one thing I believe can help ameliorate our increasingly atomized society.
This leads to my last point. I think that one of our most important, and currently neglected, roles as fiction writers is to take part in the societal debates that shape our times. In the past, great novels often had sociopolitical implications—think Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, 1984 by George Orwell, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and, more recently, Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
If we look at popular books in recent years we see that most of them have little to do with reality: The Harry Potter books, The Hunger Games, and Game of Thrones. I’m not saying that all books should take on important issues, but I think the fact that so few do is an abdication of an important role of the writer. This is especially true in these divided times, where, regardless of your beliefs or political stance, being a well-informed citizen is crucial.
Fiction has a way of reaching people in a way that non-fiction doesn’t and can be an important tool in raising awareness and promoting discussion of critical topics. I think we as writers almost have an obligation to do so.
What do you think?
So you clicked here, did you? Well, good…sort of.
Let me start by getting some things out in the open. First, this post is a little long. Second, you may not agree with or like everything I’m about to say. Third, I’m writing this because I actually care about writers like you, or at least that’s my honest-to-goodness reason for hammering out this post. Fourth, I probably need to hear it as much, if not more than, you. So hopefully what I’m about to say will help hammer it into my brain (and yours, should you benefit as well).Okay, enough of the preliminaries. I thought I might grab your attention with my catchy title (you often have to pat yourself on the back, because your publisher, editor, agent, and readers aren’t always up for the task). Then I figured I’d offer my insights into what you should really do when you’re having a hard time writing, whether it be from writer’s block, fatigue, lack of inspiration, or the itty bitty shitty committee that lives inside your head and tells you that your writing sucks 🙁
But wait! you might protest. Why take advice from a guy who’s only had two books published? If I told you I was almost finished with the third, would that help? No, probably not. Okay, well, let me say a few things in my defense. First, there are thousands of writers out there (a rather conservative estimate) who give advice and/or publish how-to books on what to do when you’re stuck in your writing who haven’t many published books to their credit. So let’s just say I’m in ___________company (I’ll let you fill in the blank).
In fact, I’ve read so much of this advice and so many of these books (in case you’re keeping track, this is the second point in my defense), that I feel warranted—no, I’d go with darn near compelled—to say something on the topic. Yes, friends, from Aristotle’s Poetics, E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel (rewind if you missed the quantum leap) and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, to more modern folks like Dwight Swain (Techniques of the Selling Writer), Larry Brooks (Story Engineering), James Scott Bell (Plot & Structure), Nancy Peacock (A Broom of One’s Own), Ann Lamott (Bird by Bird), Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) and a slew of others, I’ve read the gamut of writing books. So maybe that puts me in a place where what I have to say on the topic at least qualifies me to…well, at least not to say anything too stupid.
I know, I know. You’re saying, “Well hell, Matthew, you’ve already done that,” to which I’d heartily concur and slap my head in Homer Simpson fashion (“Doh”!). Nonetheless, I remain undaunted in my effort to (eventually) get to the point. Now I hear your chorus of, “Oh, please, God, soon!” so I’ll make this a little shorter than I’d intended.
The third part of my defense (that I have something useful to say on writing despite having only two novels published) consists of the very fact that, after many years of hard work, I’ve only had two novels published. Now, how can I use such a point as a justification for the very same point? That, my wordsmith friend, is an excellent point. I’m going to try my hardest not to use the word “point” for the remainder of this paragraph.
There, I’ve succeeded. My point is this: If you’re having a hard time writing, the best solution I can offer (after years of reading about writing much more than I’ve actually written) is to write. I’ve discovered via that long and winding road (and strawberry fields forever, man) that when you’re a writer, the answer to most questions/issues concerning writing can be found by doing one thing: writing. Now, if you’re completely burned out (and only you can tell if you are), or forcibly restrained, this does not hold, I repeat: this does not hold. But short of these exceptions, the general rule seems to be that, when in doubt, write. In fact, when you’re not in doubt, write. Actually, I think there are only two times when you should write: when you feel like it, and when you don’t. Even if you don’t actually use what you write in your work in progress (WIP), having something on paper, to me at least, sure beats having nothing on paper.
So what am I saying? Am I telling you not to read books on writing? No. I would never tell you to do or not to do anything. There are certain books out there I have found absolutely essential to keep me sane as a writer and a human being, and to prime the pump when my creative juices freeze into a popsicle. If you’re wondering what those books are, please see all the books I mentioned earlier—with the exception of E.M. Forster’s book (I just couldn’t get that one to work). Are there other good books out there on writing? Certainly. I just mentioned the ones that I can’t do without—your choices may well be different. But I also know that writing books on writing is to some people a lucrative business, one that preys on our insecurities. So I think we need to be selective in the books we choose to help develop our craft, and to realize that, once we’ve got the fundamentals of writing down, often the solution to our writing problems is to keep on writing.
There are a million excuses not to write, but the creativity we use in coming up with such justifications and rationalizations would be better served furthering our WIPs. So the stark naked realization I’ve come to is that 99 out of 100 times, writing is the best solution to my writing problems. The boldness, starkness, and simplicity of this statement may catch some unaware or cause others to say, “Well, of course”! It’s kind of like saying the answer to your smoking addiction is to stop smoking, and the solution to your drinking problem is to quit drinking. But ultimately, these ARE the answers, and, however simple and painful they are, they exist whether we want to acknowledge them or not. It’s taken me a long time to realize this, and a longer time to implement it, so I needed to put it out there. I hope it helps someone.
I’ll sign off with the words of Brenda Ueland. They’ve often provided me with inspiration to keep on writing and to help me remember that writing can be joyous. “[Y]ou should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten—happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.”
Peace and love, my friends.
In fact, to be honest, most days I don’t feel like writing, not at first anyway.
But regardless of how I feel, I try to write at least five days a week.
That’s the not so good news, not feeling like writing and then writing anyway.
But here’s the good news: Once I start writing, something magic often happens and the words flow and for some period of time I am transported outside of myself, into another world.
I lose track of time. I lose track of whether I’ve eaten. I just keep going and going like some crazed, literary version of the Duracell Bunny.
Here’s the best news I’ve got for you today: That magic has NO chance of happening if you and I don’t start writing. And I firmly believe that the best writing happens when we’re writing, not when we’re thinking of writing or planning on writing, but when we’re actually putting fingers to keyboard or pen/pencil to paper.
Oftentimes, I worry about how this scene is going to come out, or how I’m going to portray that character. I worry about pacing, plot, arcs, denouement, and a thousand other things. But these things tend to work themselves out during the writing process. It is miraculous. Yes, since I’ve become a writer, I’ve come to believe in miracles. We all should. I’m not sure books get written any other way. For think of the power of the imagination and what you can do when you express your ideas on paper.
My writing blocks come when I worry about writing, when I obsess about writing, when I focus on planning to write. Usually that anxiety disappears when I actually start writing.
If you’re suffering from writer’s block this might be the problem. You are worrying about what your writing is going to look like, how it’s going to sound.
But again, more good news. We’re not neurosurgeons. We don’t have to get it “right” the first time around, or the second, or third, or thirteenth, really. We just have to keep striving.
As I said on Facebook the other day, I have a long way to go to become the writer I want to be, but today I’m a little closer to that goal than I was yesterday. And for that I’m grateful. But I’m only closer to that goal if I write today. Because I’ve come to learn the hard way that we don’t improve our writing by thinking about writing, about having great ideas that we are one day going to commit to paper. We get better by actually doing it.
Will we make mistakes? Of course! Remember perfectionism is a demon that defeats you before you even begin, it is crippling. Make mistakes! For when we make mistakes it shows that we are writing, which is the best thing writers can do, if we’re striving to become the best writers we can be.
All the very best, and keep writing,
I can’t write a novel.
It’s true, I really can’t.
The fact that I’ve had two novels published and am working on a third doesn’t render my confession false.
But what’s going on here?
Either I’m mad or I’m lying.
The fact of the matter is that writing a novel is a maddening prospect.
As George Orwell said, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
The thing is, I doubt Orwell could write a novel. Or Dostoevsky. Or Tolstoy, for that matter.
But these are some of the greatest novelists the world has ever known!
Now, you say, that Matthew Peters has certainly gone off the deep end.
But what I mean is that writing a novel is too difficult to consider as a whole. There are simply too many things to keep track of: word choice, pacing, characterization, character arcs, plot, subplots, theme, imagery, when to reveal what, how to build to a climax, how to provide resolution, etc., etc., etc.
What we writers are capable of is writing a single chapter or, as I like to think of it, a single scene.
And, that to me, is one of the most important things I’ve learned about writing: you just do it one scene at a time.
To do otherwise is overwhelming.
The fact of the matter is that breaking things down to their component parts helps.
Anne Lamott, in her incomparable book, Bird by Bird, admits that writing can be daunting. She talks about how she keeps a one-inch picture frame on her desk.
Lamott says of the one–inch picture frame: “It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”
She also recalls E. L. Doctorow’s sage advice that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Lamott adds, “You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
When all else fails, I break down writing to its smallest component: the word. One word. I use a trick I call the one word challenge. It works like this:
Open up your WIP. Yes, I know, this is often the most difficult part, but trust me on this one.
Read the last sentence you wrote (not more than this, because then you’ll want to start editing and editing can be a form of procrastination if you haven’t finished a complete draft yet).
Now, write one word you feel could come next.
Force yourself to stop with that one word.
Here’s the thing: I’ll bet you can’t stop at one word. Just like potato chips it’s hard to stop at one.
Try this next time you’re stuck, and please let me know how it works out for you.
All the best and keep writing,
A version of this post originally appeared on Margaret Mendel’s blog, Fish Kicker, on April 1, 2015.
But it does have something to do with a quote by Edgar Rice Burroughs, in his book The Beasts of Tarzan:
“We are, all of us, creatures of habit, and when the seeming necessity for schooling ourselves in new ways ceases to exist, we fall naturally and easily into the manner and customs which long usage has implanted ineradicably within us.”
The fact of the matter is, and here I’m sharing one of the best insights I know when it comes to quitting unwanted habits, we are all creatures of habit: for good or ill.
This is an incredibly simple, yet awesomely powerful realization.
Let’s step back for a moment and figure out exactly what it means when it comes to quitting unwanted habits, like smoking and drinking.
First, it’s all about our daily routine.
And the fact of the matter is this: if you don’t do something every day for a long enough time, you really won’t miss it!
This occurred to me when I quit smoking. I smoked on and off for years, and when I smoked I often did a pack a day. I can’t begin to tell you how much I looked forward to that morning cigarette, especially with a hot cup of coffee. I thought there was no way in hell I’d ever be able to wake up and not want a cigarette. But you know what? I’ve been waking up every day for the past several years without even thinking about smoking.
How did I do it?
Well, at first I used the patch, which worked for me, but may not be right for everyone. Please check with your doctor before you consider using something like that. But more importantly, it was a matter of waking up and not having a cigarette for enough days in a row, to the point where I even stopped thinking about smoking in the morning.
How does this work? Well, I don’t know the physiological and psychological details, but it revolves around the fact that we are creatures of habit, just like Burroughs says. Fact: if you wake up enough mornings without smoking a cigarette you will stop craving a cigarette in the morning. That’s right: we are creatures of habit for good or for ill.
The same is true for drinking, although of course you may need to be medically detoxed from alcohol. Again, check with your doctor.
Let’s take religion out of it. And let’s side-step the question whether alcoholism/addiction is a disease. The fact of the matter is if you go enough days without drinking, you lose the habit of drinking. Why? Because you’ve essentially created the habit of not drinking, just like you create the habit of not smoking by waking up enough mornings without lighting a cigarette.
Now, how many days do you have to go without a cigarette or a drink before you get into the habit of not drinking or smoking? That answer differs from person to person. It might be several days, it might even be weeks, but the great news is: it gets better. You will not always crave a cigarette or a drink as badly as you do when you first quit. There may be times when a craving surfaces, but if you just hang in there long enough, it will pass. Please trust me on this one.
The rest of the Burroughs’s quote reminds us that when we stop trying to implement a new behavior (e.g., when we stop developing alternatives to drinking and smoking) then we fall back into our old ways, which is pretty darn accurate in my experience.
I have found this insight remarkably powerful when it comes to quitting unwanted habits. Truth be told, it’s also helped me instill some good ones, too, like writing a certain number of words a day.
That’s right. Start by writing a certain number of words a day—I do 500—and then do that every day for a certain number of days. Given long enough you will find yourself actually missing writing if you skip a day.
Do you have a habit you’d like to give up?
With this caveat in mind, I offer the following guidelines for the new fiction writer.
First, read broadly—fiction, nonfiction, science, politics, etc. And read as much good literature as you can, especially the classics, in all its forms: prose, poetry, plays, essays, etc.
Second, write often. While some say you should write every day, I urge you to write as often as possible. Writing is like most things: the more you do it, the better you get. But allowing the creative batteries to recharge is essential.
Third, on days you write, strive for a sensible word count. Avoid setting unrealizable goals, thereby setting up false expectations. I shoot for 500 words. That’s two pages a day, ten pages a week (taking weekends—or any other two days—off). This may not sound like a lot, but in a year, I have 480 pages, a good-sized novel.
Fourth, when you write, think in terms of scenes, like in a movie, as opposed to chapters or sections. Not only will this give you a place to start, it will help you “show” more than “tell.”
Fifth, don’t be a perfectionist when writing the first draft. Unlike other professions (e.g., neurosurgery), writers don’t have to get it right the first time. We have the luxury of being able to revise our product as much as we wish. Let this insight free you up. Try to approach writing like you would a school science project: with a mixture of curiosity and awe, and hopefully some enthusiasm and joy.
Sixth, join or start a writing group. The point here is to make sure you get input from people besides your parents and/or significant other. But be wary of taking too much feedback, especially too early on—too many writers can spoil the plot (among other things).
Finally, don’t be too eager to submit to an agent/publisher, or to self-publish. Make sure your work is as free from errors (e.g., typos, factual, grammatical) as possible. If you can afford it, hire a content editor and a copy editor. Bottom line: don’t submit anything until it represents your best effort. I think you’ll be surprised how much this will set you apart from other writers.
I hope this helps. And, as always, keep writing.
*This post first appeared March 6, 2015 on Archaeolibrarian
Last time we talked about writing exercises. While some writers (including yours truly) may not see the benefit of doing generic writing exercises found in books on writing, reading exercises seem to me an entirely different matter.
What are reading exercises and how can one benefit from them?
It’s often been said that the more widely you read the better. So if you write genre fiction, for example, reading literary fiction is a good idea. You also might want to consider reading plays and poetry as well as current events, and non-fiction essays.
What I want to stress here is that the level of difficulty of what you read makes a tremendous difference. In most cases, the more challenging the material, the better.
What is the point of reading difficult material?
It is like playing tennis with someone better than you. It strengthens you. It stretches you, and makes you grow. Reading difficult material stretches your mind, works out your brain, and makes your mind more nimble and agile when it comes to your own writing.
I suggest the following. Set aside a little time each day to read something you find challenging. For me, it’s often philosophy, poetry, Shakespeare, or just good old fashioned literary fiction. After finishing your difficult reading take a break. Then turn to your own writing project. I think you will be amazed at how much easier your own task seems.
Of course, there are so many other benefits to be derived from this practice. For example, your vocabulary becomes richer and the way you think and conceive of things may change as well, helping you to see things in a more creative way.
Do you do reading exercises as I’ve described them? Have they helped with your writing?
Several books on writing come complete with writing exercises. The thought is that doing such exercises will help strengthen your skills as a writer.
I’ll be honest—there’s a shocker, right? While I love to read books on writing, and own several, I’ve never done any of the exercises in any of the books.
I’m glad you asked.
I believe the best way to improve your writing is to write. Generic exercises on describing a piece of furniture or a particular character are all well and good, but until you really need to write about a piece of furniture or a particular character, spending time doing exercises is a waste of valuable energy.
Moreover, it seems to me that doing writing exercises makes you proficient in exactly one thing: doing writing exercises.
However, part of me feels bad for feeling this way. I’d really like to think that there are benefits to be derived from such practice. Who knows, maybe I’m just lazy.
What do you think of the merits of writing exercises? I want to hear from all of you, but I would especially like to hear from people who swear by such exercises, to help convince me of their potential rewards, and maybe help break my procrastinating ways.
I’m all ears.
These days it is easy to get discouraged when it comes to writing. The market seems saturated regardless of the genre you write. There is a glut of material, some of dubious quality, for readers of all ages, and we live in a day and age where it seems fewer and fewer people are buying books and reading.
Oftentimes, I allow myself to get dragged down by such negative thoughts, and engage in cognitive fallacies that are of little use in increasing my productivity or in raising my self-esteem, which more often than not, could stand a boost. These can take the form of all-or-nothing thinking, a case of the should -have’s, or simply a concentration on the negative to the exclusion of the positive.
Any of these sound familiar?
Regardless of how these thoughts manifest themselves there is a common denominator at work—namely, that I have lost sight of the purpose of writing.
What is the purpose of writing?
That is a question each of us must answer for ourselves.
I’ll give it a go here in the hope of starting a dialogue.
For me the purpose of writing is to get in touch with myself. Seldom do I truly know what I think about a subject until I put my thoughts on paper. Writing things down clarifies things for me and helps fill in the gaps in my own thinking, exposing the places in which there are lacunae in my reasoning or my emotional development.
I write to try to get people to think differently about something they might take for granted.
I also write because my writing is tied inextricably, for good or for ill, to my self-esteem. I am what I write, is a motto to which I subscribe whole-heartedly.
There is also some truth in the pat answer of writing to convey an emotional experience. But to me that is more the function of writing than the purpose of writing. Conveying an emotional experience is something writing does, and not the purpose of writing per se.
What is the purpose of writing for you?