Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Publication is a Moot Point

I don't think I'm alone when I say I've been feeling the pressure of the un/pre-published life lately. Bills are stacking up. Unfulfilled dreams are starting to get cranky. Unmet goals are rubbing saddle sores into my sides. I've not achieved what I hoped I would have by now.

Indeed, I'm not getting paid to write. I'm not published. I'm not agented. And sometimes these rankling facts infect me with an apathy that makes even writing a chore. Do you know what I mean? It looks something like this:

But here's the thing. It's the main thing. And somehow, in the middle of all my striving and longing and journeying and bleeding and trudging, it manages to be the thing I forget most.


No, I'm not crazy. Let me say it again. None of that matters! Not a bit! Not a whit! Not a Dr. Seussian Snit!

Sure, it'd be great to get paid to write. I'd love to have my books published. And I would be enthralled to work with an agent who liked my writing enough to champion it. But none of those things are the reason I write. None of them are why I started writing in the first place. See where I'm headed yet?

I just finished reading Emily of New Moon, a book by L.M. Montgomery (you know, the wonderful woman who gave us Anne Shirley?), and in it I found a certain amount of refreshment as a writer. As it happens, Emily Starr, the protagonist of the book, also longs to write for a living. But when her teacher demands to know why she wants this, he leads Emily to the heart of the matter--for her, and for all of us. He says:

"Tell me this--if you knew you would be poor as a church mouse all your life--if you knew you'd never have a line published--would you still go on writing--would you?"
"Of course I would," said Emily disdainfully. "Why, I have to write--I can't help it at times--I've just got to."

For me this conversation was like a knock over the head. Never mind that I've said this very thing many times before (I have to write! I'll go on doing it forever whether I get paid for it or not!); somewhere in the wild scramble for the prize of publication, I'd temporarily lost sight of it.

But I didn't start writing because I wanted to be published, or because I thought it would make me rich and famous, or because writing somehow impresses people. I didn't even start because I loved it--although that certainly plays a helpful role. It was because the stories in my head were all but leaking out of me, suffocating me with their need to be told. It was because I HAD TO.

And I think that's what we have to remember. Because that's the only thing that will keep you happy in your work. Doing it because you must--and because you love it. And if publication happens along the way, well... that's a lovely bonus.

What do you think? Why did you start writing? Do you find yourself getting distracted and consumed by dreams of agents and editors and publishing contracts so that your writing takes the back seat? Please share!


  1. ...you hit the nail square atop its head, Hanna!

    We write because at times it feels as though we must. It's hard for some to understand, but without the release of storytelling, the everyday grind would be upon a road far more steep.

    Great post ;)


  2. I'm like you, I started writing because it's who I am. And, yes, I did get caught up in the dream of getting an agent and getting published.

    I must say, as I read Sunchild, I'm convinced that you have what it takes to get published. I would TOTALLY rep that book if I was an agent.

  3. Eliot: Thanks for visiting! And yes, I agree. It makes life a more enjoyable thing for those of us who write.

    Giles: Yes, it is an entangling dream, isn't it? But it's good to go back and remember why we started. Thanks for your encouragement!

  4. This is very well said. If you're not doing it for the love, you probably won't end up satisfied, even if you somehow happen to get rich.

  5. I feel that way about painting and art. I see others moving ahead, being successful and having more talent... but I agree that it doesn't mean a damned thing! I paint for my sanity. I have images, like stories, I simply HAVE TO communicate.
    I never want money or my position on the ladder to interfere with this basic part of me.
    I started drawing because that's how I tell stories, too.
    Our love for it can be hindered by success or lack of... but our love of it can also hinder success, too. Do you find that? In one of your previous blogs I think you touched on it. It's a part of you... you may be very good but the idea of a part of yourself being rejected by others is very scary. So you want to keep it a secret almost. I imagine that is something you get over with age...
    Sorry, I ramble. :)
    My point is, I agree with you.

  6. Matthew: Yes, I agree. If you're not happy doing the thing itself, nothing that comes from it will do you much good.

    Jordan: Yes.

    Lauren: Love is a scary thing, isn't it? Any time you make yourself that vulnerable, it's much easier to back out and keep that part of yourself safe than to risk. But risk can have great rewards, as well as consequences. I understand what you mean completely. It always amazes me how all artists are similar, no matter what their art.

  7. Great attitude to have, and this is why I did my post series on Fossilized Horses. Sick of all the nonsense and obsession. Thumbs-up from me!

  8. Hi Hanna - I just stopped over from Giles blog. Your site is beautiful!! And as far as your post - it's true. Getting back to the first moments of why we started writing is key to staying positive in this industry. Thank you for reminding me.

  9. Todd: Thanks, I think it's a good anchoring thought. It's so easy to get carried away by the "dream" when you are trying to get published.

    Ainsley: I'm so glad you stopped by! It's lovely to meet you. I'm happy to have given you some encouragement. :)

  10. I'm getting caught up on your blog posts, so this is a little behind everyone else's posts, but I'm pretty sure that one of the reasons that I write is because I have something to say and I want someone to "hear" me. I don't think the people in my life really "hear" me, or listen to what I have to say, and STORY is a way to communicate what you have to in a way that others are willing to hear it. Does that make sense? I heard Elizabeth Strout speak a couple of years ago and she said that she writes for just one reader. She doesn't write for publication success, but she doesn't write just for herself either. She writes for that one reader who will read her work and be changed. That is enough for her, and when I heard her say that, it struck home for me. That is why I write too.