Monday, 25 October 2010

We don't need no publication

We all start out wanting to get published, because that's what writers are for, right? That's what we do, how we validate ourselves. We twist ourselves in knots yearning for it. Like going to work, getting married, having kids – we do it because, well, that's what we're supposed to do. No thought. No question. No uncomfortable explanations or justifications needed. Follow the herd, lemming-like, over the cliff of despair.

But until we can say why it is we want to get published, rather than just, I want to get published, we will never be happy writing, even if we do get that 2 book mega-deal.

Understanding why we're doing it helps us discover what it is we need to get out of our work, or gives us the opportunity to change our focus if we find we're doing it for the wrong reasons.

So why do you write? Well, it's going to be one of three things, or somewhere in between.

For Yourself

Perhaps you write for therapy, to excise demons from your past, to examine yourself, to discover yourself. Maybe you write so you can say all those things you don't have the courage to say to all the people who annoy you in real life, to purge yourself of anger, annoyance and upset. Maybe it's the idea of writing that excites you, to be able to think of yourself as a writer. Maybe it's what you write about - illicit, private things that move you. Perhaps you only ever write for an audience of one. Or perhaps you write what you'd really love to read.

For the Reader

Maybe it's all about the reader. You seek only to entertain them, to transport them. Perhaps you devour all the bestsellers in the hope you'll see the ingredient you need for your own work to be successful. You learn that it's all about entertainment, accessibility and universality – that it's stories that readers want. And if it's for the reader, then it's for the money, as readers will pay for stories they want to read.

For the Writing

Or perhaps your dream is to learn and understand the craft until you are fluent in it, to strive for something unique, something more relevant, more challenging that what has gone before. Perhaps you want your work to transcend you, your reader and the tools you have available to you, for your creation to be greater than the sum of its parts – to be the greatest book you could ever write.

And if you wade through all that and still think, actually, all I want is to get published, then you can self-publish and be happy, right?

The Writer's Journey

"Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art." - Konstantin Stanislavsky


I started writing because I liked the idea of myself as a writer. Now I write because I want to become the best storyteller I can. And if publication comes along while I'm doing it, I'll look it squarely in the eye before biting its hand off to the elbow.

But I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.

13 comments:

  1. My goal was to get published so I would be read. Self-publishing didn't appeal to me b/c I wanted a greater audience. I just want to feel validated b/c people enjoy what I write. And if I make back some of the money I've spent trying to get published, that's a great bonus.

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  2. Hey Tamara, thanks for your comment - congrats on getting published btw. I've been following your journey and was impressed with your book trailer. Hopefully, you'll make a mint from your book - happy readers, personal validation, and cash - let's get ourselves some of that.

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  3. Good question. I've been a writer ever since I learned how. I loved and still love words. I love how they evoke emotion and so eloquently say what otherwise is indescribable.

    I've never really thought about why I want to be published. For me, it never wasn't an option. I write to communicate things to others. From an admittedly selfish standpoint, it's a longing for others to see the world through my eyes. Like Tamara said, it's about validation.

    Why I need that validation? I'm sure a therapist could help me figure that one out. :-)

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  4. I started writing because I wanted to reach people with meaningful stories. Along the way, I also decided that I wanted to learn how to write beautifully crafted works. I would love to sign with a literary agent and be published by a big publishing company. In the meantime, I'm honored to have numerous publications through indie press and to have received quite a few writing awards and wonderful reviews.

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  5. Brilliant post! It's funny that you say you started to write because you liked the idea of yourself as a writer, because you never came off that way (you know way back in the ancient history of our writing infancy in the mid-2000s). You always seemed more like a man with a story to tell and an exceptional way with words that simply refused to go unexpressed.

    I started writing because I had to -- not as a form of therapy (at least not most of the time), but because the stories and characters wouldn't be ignored. That's still the case, but now I understand that my words can impact others. Each time I get a note from a complete stranger telling me that something I wrote touched them, I'm reminded that art (in any form) isn't really complete until it's found an audience.

    Perhaps this is one of the reasons writers crave that elusive "publishing deal". If we were musicians, painters, actors, sculptors or virtually any other type of artists, we would have opportunities to share our work on a smaller scale, local level (arts festivals, local theater productions, live music venues, etc..) But writers in general, and novelists in particular, haven't really had that type of outlet to complete the creative process.

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  6. @jennifer - the thing is, Jennifer, you're doing it irrespective, you've got your blog and other stuff going on, and I suspect you're going to keep doing it published or no, and that's my point really. I think you've got close to what it's all about - having something to say and learning how to say it in the most effective way. And I think if we're all honest, there's a desire for the little bit of immortality that comes from writing something that will exist and be read far beyond us.

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  7. @Marilyn - hey Marilyn, thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. I think you're right to attack it the way you are - writing powerful stories that connect with the reader, and learning how to craft them as best you can, whilst also pursuing the path to publication. Sounds like a fool-proof plan to me!

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  8. @becca I much prefer your description of my writing genesis than mine - if I make the big-time, I'll get you to write my biog. You made me think tho - what I really should have said was I started to write novels because I liked the idea of myself as a novelist. My writing career started way before that - I began writing for the stage, and curiously enough I've felt the pull of the theatre again and have begun work on a new 1 Act piece. I suspect this has something to do with what you say about stories needing an audience - letting your babies go out into the world and live, before cracking on with the next WIP.

    I used to have to drag the stories out of myself and from the world around me, hammering through the walls that growing-up builds around the imagination. Now I've freed my imagination a little more, stories are now tapping me on the shoulder, rather than the other way around.

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  9. I hear you. I began to write for myself following an inspirational idea I had, however once I had released a few chapters for people to read and received their feedback, I realised I was doing it for both myself and the readers. Yes I would love to write for a living from the proceeds of my books. However I have yet to grab the attention of an agent or publisher as of yet so I have began to write book 2 instead.
    Great post by the way.

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  10. Thanks for your comment, Jamie. I think if you're destined to do it, you keep doing it no matter what. Impressed with your attitude about cracking on with book 2 - shows a determination and commitment that sets you apart. Good luck and I'm sure it will work out for you.

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  11. You can't lose sleep over it or you'll drive yourself nuts! Perspective!

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  12. "And if it's for the reader, then it's for the money..."
    It's funny you said that. I started writing because I loved telling stories. I loved my audience. Writing makes me feel like I'm back at the family dinner table, telling tall tales. These days though (with my own growing family demanding a growing income) I write because it's the only thing I'm really good at. I feel very lucky to love what I do, especially since it's the only skill I have that I can imagine people paying me for.

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  13. @Laura - damn straight!

    @April - Thanks for your comment, April (lovely name btw) and welcome to the blog. The point I was hoping to make with that comment about money is that books get published for a reason, in that the publisher believes enough people will want to pay to read it to make it worth their while. It's quite a sobering thought when put in those terms. Getting published can sometimes seem like the end, when really, it's just the beginning of something else.

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