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!