Last Friday in her blog, literary agent Rachelle Gardner pondered the link between the desire to write and that of being published commercially. It was followed by an interesting question: Are the two inseparably connected in the writer’s mind and if they are not, how do you know you should keep writing if you do not intend on seeking publication? Like many of her awesome posts, it was followed by many comments, but in this case, nearly one hundred readers chimed in on exactly why they write.
Some of my readers may already have read my post from a month ago where I explained exactly why I write, but Ms. Gardner brought up a very interesting correlation and I wondered if other writers were as pulled toward publication as I was. First of all, when I started writing my novel, The Mistaken, I never even considered the publishing end of it. I just woke up with a story rattling around in my head. It came to me after hearing a song. The lyrics made me wonder what would drive a good man to do something really terrible, something completely out of character, and could he ever find his way back to the man he used to be. When I linked the possibilities to certain experiences in my own life, I tried to answer that question with a scenario and bam!—a novel was born.
Unlike many—or even most—writers, I suspect, I have not spent my life with the desire to write. I don’t have drawers full of stories and characters and made-up worlds. That is to say, while I do love to write, I was never compelled to write before I started all this. And while I was writing my novel, my only goal was to get the story down and enjoy the creative process.
You see, I’m a creative person. My job—the one that helps pay the bills—is to create beautiful spaces for people to live or work in. But when the economy took a big old dump on the building industry, my pipeline to creativity all but dried up. It’s slowly coming back to life, but the last three plus years have been a drought with little opportunity for me to create though the need to do so remained firmly in place. For the first two years, I used cooking and baking as an outlet, but that only took me so far. With nowhere else to go, my creativity unleashed itself in my desire to tell a story. And so I did exactly that.
But normally, when I help create a beautiful, functional space for people to live or work in—or to help builders sell an idea of a lifestyle—the end product is used and enjoyed. It serves a purpose. And I know that someone is enjoying what I slaved over for days, weeks or months. There is a great deal of satisfaction in the end use of my product. But what about writing? What is the end use of what I created, of what I’ve written? Well, of course, the end use is reading it. And while I do get some satisfaction reading my own words, I would garner much more if others were to read it, as well, hence my desire to be published.
Now, that’s not to say that writing doesn’t serve a purpose if it is not read by someone else other than the author. There were a plethora of valid reasons given by Ms. Gardner’s many commenters. Some said writing made them a better person or that they just liked to do it, while others—many, in fact—refer to writing as a calling they cannot ignore, that it gives them a sense of fulfillment they cannot find in any other way. For some it is simply a creation of art, an expressive outlet for their sole benefit. Still others referred to it as a means of self-exploration and a few of those even used writing as a way to deal with their inner demons and release their frustrations while avoiding professional counseling. I can relate to this last group. My own demons figured substantially into my story.
But a great many writers expressed the sentiment that “words are worthless if not read.” One even equated writing without ever being read to cooking a feast only to be thrown away before it was eaten. Another said it was like creating a piece of art that no one will ever look at and what’s the point then if nobody else will ever see it? He said he “could not separate the writing from the need to have it examined.” I’m definitely with that guy. I’m not saying I need people to gush over my work, though I do hope people enjoy it. And while it would be great to actually make some money, I don’t even consider that element in my reasons for seeking publication. Neither do I need to see my name in lights, so to speak, to have my nom de plume splashed across fancy cover art. I just want an outlet for others to read my words. I want others to get some enjoyment out of the story, to be thrilled for a few hours over a few days time. I even think the theme of my book—forgiveness—might benefit some in a way.
I know there will be many people who do not like my story, who think it is too violent, or improbable, that a good man would never be compelled toward vengeance, to be so driven by personal demons as to commit a violent act, especially rape, if it was not in his character. But I can tell you personally that is not true. I even think it’s possible to find redemption afterwards. My need to express these issues coerced me to write my story. My desire to tell the story somehow makes sense of certain life experiences. And while I have battled my own demons and won in the best way possible, the need to have others recognize the fight as worthy is undeniable.
In my comment on Ms. Gardner’s post, I equated the experience of writing a book and wanting to see it published to pregnancy and childbirth. You spend months—maybe even years—growing this germ of an idea into something that has shape, something that has life, something that has a name, an identity. Then you labor over bringing it into the world, crying over the pain it causes you. The urge to bring it to publication is very much like that urge to push. Undeniable. Useless to fight against. Because you want everyone to see just how beautiful your baby is, how much time and work and effort you’ve put into it. You want to hold it in your hands and smile as you present it to the whole wide world. This is my creation. My baby. It was hard. But it was so worth every tear. Every extra pound. Every frustration. So, please, come take a look!
To me, publication is more than just validation that a writer can actually write words that someone else wants to read. It’s having a voice. It’s a platform—widely accepted and utilized—where an author can say, “This is what’s important to me and this is what I have to say about it.” It’s a documentation of our personal history, whether fiction or not, a way to process our life, our experiences, our world, and hopefully give others enjoyment or enlightenment at the same time. It’s a way to share and bond and live again. But you have to put it out there first, as scary as that may be. And it is really, really scary, especially when there is so much rejection along the way.I may never be traditionally published. In fact, chances are, I never will be with the way the publishing industry is changing. But I also find value in the pursuit. It’s a dream that pushes me out of bed every day. It gives me purpose. And I may be discouraged on my road to publication, but I will never, ever give up.