I used to believe writers wrote because they wanted to educate others, or because they were seeking some searing truth hidden to those who don't take the time to explore a subject beneath its surface. And indeed, that may be an honest ideal.
But now that I've claimed the writer's mantle myself, I realize that -- at least for myself -- the core motivation is much less noble. I've discovered that I write to better understand the world around me, and my place in it. I suspect that's also at the core of all great writing, whether the authors realize it or not. The very best stories are -- as we all learn in our earliest writing courses -- an exploration of the universalities of the human condition. They reveal some facet of the characters or the subject, and in reflection, of the reader.
When I research nonfiction, it helps me see the way things really are. When I write about true-life subjects, it requires that I face the less-pleasant aspects of the human condition along with the heroism, leadership and inspiration we all seek in ourselves and others. When I write fiction, it allows me to salve some of the wounds inflicted by those nonfiction truths on my own soul. But I also hope that by creating characters of depth and interest, I can put them in situations and let them interact in a way that allows readers to gain insight into some part of their own lives.
I always intend my books to inform, enlighten, and maybe entertain readers. But in my deepest writer's heart, I hope that some part of my work -- especially my fiction -- will rise above all that.
When they finish one of my books and lay it down, I want to have taken readers on a journey that leaves them changed in some way, preferably for the better. I want them to look at the world in a new way, for the light to appear different to them. If only for a brief while, I want them to walk through their lives seeing with new eyes, hearing with new ears, feeling with new hearts.