Stop obsessing about publication, start obsessing about writing

Getting published is the Holy Grail for most writers – it is the end to which we all aspire – but why? Will that mean we are better writers? Will we be happier? Will we be able to give up our day jobs and move out to the Tuscan villa?

No, no, and no.

Publication will give a certain amount of validation to your work – there's no question that strangers at parties, family members and let's face it, those we share our beds with, will take our writing much more seriously if we get published. So we may win a few cigars off friends, but that's about the most we can expect.

If we look hard enough we'll see that publication is no sure-fire guarantee of success, or that we'll get another book published, or even that our first will stay published - it's also no guarantee of happiness and it's certainly not the end of anything – just the beginning of something else.

So what's a poor unpublished writer to do?

Learn to love the journey, the act of writing itself, irrespective of what will come of it. Make our goal not getting published, but to write the best damn novel/story/play/poem we possibly can, and forget everything else.

Because the truth is, the most likely reason we're not published is not that we haven't got an agent, or our query letter isn't intriguing enough, or we don't have enough twitter followers, or that most people just watch TV these days, or that nobody has bothered to notice – it's because we're simply not good enough.

You see, you can't change those other things – but your writing? You can make that anything you want.

So let's start by making it brilliant.


  1. Obsessing about publication? I've given up on the quest for publication, and am self-publishing. It's nice not to be researching agents and sending out submissions - on the other hand, to produce a quality book independently takes a great deal of time. So the writing has gone on the back burner for a time...

    Actually, I think you are wrong to say the most likely reason we are not published is that we are simply not good enough. It's not as though every book in the shops is of a mind-bogglingly superior quality, is it?

  2. I love this post James. Love when said this: "Learn to love the journey, the act of writing itself, irrespective of what will come of it."

    This is so true. I have so many published writer friends who tell me that being published isn't going to change much. But of course, we still want it.

    We should be focusing more on the act of writing than the goal of being published. As writers, we write for the story anyway not really the bound book.

  3. @Lexi - very true - I was being deliberately hyperbolic to make the point that being published doesn't really indicate anything more than the fact that you've been published, and that the focus of the writer should be on writing something excellent, and striving to make the work as good as it can be, which is a different focus.

    I was also questioning our writerly obsession with being published and what it really gives the writer - and the only thing I can think of is a kind of validation - there's no guarantee of anything else. But then of course, I'm woefully under-qualified as I'm still a member of the great unwashed.

    I do feel though, that with writing, the means will bring a justified ends - and that if we focus on our stories and our craft, and tell them in the best way we can, and improve them as we as writers improve, then people will want to read our work, and the work will find an outlet for that to happen, either through blogs, self-publishing, online publishing, etc.

    But then again, I could be talking out of my **** ;)

  4. @Karen - thanks Karen, we seem to be on the same wavelength here as we do about a lot of things. Reading your comment put me in mind of a quote from Stanislavski: 'love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art' which I guess, puts what I'm trying to say far more succinctly and powerfully.

  5. The trouble is, if a writer isn't read, he is just talking to himself. And unlike artists (the prime example being Van Gogh) writers don't seem to be discovered and published long after they are dead.

    It's now or never.

  6. I agree that I would personally feel more validated by those around me if I were published - I felt like that when published in a professional capacity.
    However, I don't believe that it's because we're not good enough - it's a melange of factors that are not all in our control.
    I love writing, and the more I do it the better I hope it gets, which in itself is a goal.

  7. @Hemmie - hey Hem, nice to have you back and thanks for your comment. Upon re-reading my post I think that 'not being good enough' statement is stronger than I intended - my meaning was, the most *likely* reason our work isn't published is because it's not good enough. Sure, there are probably some overlooked masterpieces that have been cruelly rejected, but I'd hazard that's the exception rather than the rule.

    You're right about the control aspect, and that was one of the points I hoped to make - that our writing is completely within our control, while all the other stuff isn't - unless you decide to go it alone like Lexi.

    This really is a manifesto for myself more than anything else. My current WIP is not good enough for publication, and in fact, I don't want it to be published until it's as good as I can get it, and so I make that my goal - because making something publishable and making something brilliant are not the same thing, and one is within my control, the other is subject to many things beyond it.

  8. This is so true! And one that everyone should remember!

  9. I've worked with many performers in my day job and there's no doubt that focusing on the PROCESS, not the outcome, is the path toward excellence. Thanks for the post.

  10. @Laura - thank you for dropping by Laura and taking the time to read, Laura - it's much appreciated.

    @Jennifer - and thank you for your comment, Jennifer - glad you appreciated it.

  11. You're right. Obsessing about writing is far more important than obsessing about anything else. Without that passion to keep you running through a 100,000 word piece, you run the risk of losing the reader. Great post. You deserve a Versatile Blogger Award for such insight. I gave it to you over at my blog.


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