Reasons to Write (that have nothing to do with publishing)

In Craft, General, Musings, Publishing on July 15, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Lately several of my editing clients/students have asked me the questions that always make me cringe: “Should I continue my pursuit of writing? Do you think I have a chance to be published?”

The first question: Should I continue? Always gets linked to the second: Do I have a chance to be published? And as much as I understand the need to link them, I feel it’s a mistake.

Why? Well let me first say that of course every writer wants to have an audience, earn big advances, achieve some level of fame or notoreity, and feel as though he or she has “arrived.” But if that is the ONLY reason you write, if there is no joy, sense of discovery, larger purpose, creative outlet, then frankly, I think that you are writing for the wrong reasons. UNLESS you are one of those wonderful quick study types who can pick up a craft, produce a commercial product, and therefore make a living at this thing called writing.

 My clients and students are the dreamers, hopers, and wishers (cue a little Kermit singing here), and I am among them. And if I can do one other thing beyond teaching a writer about the craft, it is to say this: Write because it gives your life meaning. Write because you need to express yourself. Write because you like the challenge of getting better at something. Write to be creative. Write to share with a small, but selective audience. Write to know yourself and the world better. Write for the sheer, primal, age-old joy of telling stories, a most basic human impulse if ever there was one.

And don’t let one person (or many, for that matter) ever make the decision for you about whether or not you should give up.

  1. It’s that old question–if you could look into the future and see that you’d never get published, would you keep writing. Well, for me–after a lot of wailing and throwing things–the answer would have to be yes. And, yes, I have to keep reminding myself of that in face of worry and fear and discouragement, that THIS–the love of doing it–is what it has to be about. Great post, Jordan.

  2. Yes, Becky. It’s taken me a long time to get here and realize that I absolutely would, no matter the outcome.

  3. I guess it’s a lot like playing the piano, right? You’ve practiced and practiced until your fingers are ready to fall off, and now you’re ready to perform your piano concerto for all the world to see. But for the moment, no calls from the New York Philharmonic asking you to solo with orchestra this weekend, no calls from London, Paris or Tokyo asking you to come and give a recital.

    So what? Do you stop playing all the Beethoven sonatas, the Bach partitas and the Chopin etudes that have filled your home with glorious harmonies and evocative tones? I shudder at the thought that you might.

    But until the concert halls do call, keep working on your piano show pieces, make them as perfect and as beautiful as possible, find joy in process and be proud of your own product. Because true and complete contentment with your own work is something no amount of readers, large or small, can give you. And to achieve that sort of self-fulfillment you certainly don’t need to publish a book.

    It’s almost like a great workout. For the first time you’ve been able to run for 30 minutes without stopping. You’ve passed your threshold; you’ve broken through to another level. DID YOU WIN A MARATHON? NO! But I bet you feel like you did.

    So if you write your best and aim for telling the best story you can possibly tell. Then, if you get published, that will probably pale in comparison to how you feel inside knowing that you pushed yourself to new heights.

  4. Jordan, I love this post – good stuff.

    The best thing about enjoying the writing *process* is that by shifting our focus and taking pressure off ourselves, our writing becomes more free, more authentic and…more publishable.

    warmly, Marla

    p.s. – I can’t get Kermit’s “Rainbow Connection” out of my head now…oh, no! 🙂

  5. I went to a lecture Steve Almond gave yesterday and his wise advice was “If you can find some more efficient form of rescue, I recommend you do so.” If not, keep writing.

  6. Great post here. I write because I must. Sure, I hope some day I get published, but I won’t be broken if it doesn’t happen. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this.

  7. Great post, Jordan. I know it is a difficult thing for most writers to face the anxiety of the page period. (Hang with me, waking up with my coffee…) So sometimes I think the thought of ‘publication’ however far flung it might be, serves as some sort of justification for doing what we do. What I find interesting is the flip side of the process – that there is a certain beauty in the dreaming process, I think especially with writing/publishing novels…sort of like being pregnant, you can dream all kinds of things about what it will be like to raise a baby in the world, and yeah, pregnancy is hard work in its own right, but then that baby comes out and it is an entirely different reality! So basically what I am trying to say is that lately I’ve become aware of really appreciating whatever stage I am at in the writing process and the journey because every stage represents its challenges and rewards.

  8. Love it! What a beautiful post! And so true. Although I have my own doubts every once in awhile, I decided to just do everything I want to do in my life without worrying where it will lead me. It’s quite freeing to do so. Plus, after this last year of freelancing, I realized I really can do it. I just need to keep going. Giving up is the only time it’s really over.

  9. This was a delicious blog. Exactly what I have been thinking lately. For far too long, I worried about how my writing might be received by others. In the process, I lost my sense of wonder.

    But I have begun to re-evaluate myself and my writing, and I have found the joy that was missing. I don’t want to get caught up in the process. I don’t want to be a machine, churning out formulaic stories to someone else’s tune. I want to write what I like, whether anyone else loves it or not, whether it’s ever published or not.

    I think that old adage, “you have to love yourself before others can love you” holds true for writing. You have to love your writing before you can expect someone else to.

    Thank you for this blog.

  10. I woke up with The Rainbow Connection stuck in my head this morning! Coincidence?

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