Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

On Facebook this week, online friend Fiona Marsden dropped something of a bombshell.

She posted, “I have made a momentous decision. I’m not going to write for publication.”

When I asked if she would still write for enjoyment, she said, “Oh yes. But I find the whole idea of trying to write something that someone else thinks is publishable is too stressfull. It’s taking the joy out of it. I’ll just write what I like and if it isn’t publishable well too bad.”

To some writers this borders on heresy; to others it makes perfect sense.  I thought it a brave and very sensible decision to make, and has nothing to do with the quality of the writing.  Having only read entries in Fiona’s blog, her posts on Facebook and in the Bat Cave on (don’t ask!)  I can’t comment on her creative writing, although her posts suggest she has the proverbial “way with words”.

But there’s a deeper issue at stake here for writers.

Is it okay to enjoy writing, perhaps share your work online, and with family and friends, without seeking publication? In my book, The Idea Factory, I explored the idea of writing for enjoyment, observing that, ” “Painters find it perfectly acceptable to dabble in art and produce unspectacular pictures for their living room walls. Yet for some reason writing isn’t considered acceptable unless it’s for publication.”

Imagine if everyone who enjoyed designing clothes felt their work wasn’t complete until worn by some celebrity on the red carpet? Or if a keen gardener couldn’t sleep at night without medals from the Chelsea Flower Show?

These days it’s fine to publish your own work through the many resources available on line.

With some foresight (Idea Factory was published in 1995), I wrote “You can self-publish. For many years this was a dirty word, but as publishers become what Morris West calls ‘agglomerated’ and mainly interested in potential blockbuster novels, small presses are making a comeback.”

Self-publishing, or indie publishing as it’s known now, can lead to spectacular success. John Grisham’s novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 28 publishers. It was finally accepted and 5,000 copies printed. Grisham bought 1,000 of them and toured the USA selling them himself. Those books are worth more than $4,000 today if you can find one.

Then there’s Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, by British author E L James. Starting life as Twilight fan-fiction online, the book has now been published, selling over 10 million copies worldwide.

Even if this doesn’t happen to you, it’s fine to decide to enjoy playing with words, putting them together in whatever form takes your fancy, without caring whether they’re published or not.

It’s only recently the word amateur has come to mean  less worthy than professional.

The word itself comes from the Latin amator meaning a lover of something, describing one who does something for the joy of it, rather than for payment. If dealing with real-world or digital publishing takes “the joy out of it” for you, then write for yourself. Share your work where and when you please. Who knows where it will lead?


Proud Friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

Established Writer in Residence Katharine Susannah Prichard Centre, Perth 2012

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

Comments on: "Is it okay to write without wanting to be published?" (21)

  1. Great post, Valerie. I’ve recently had some bad news on the publishing front myself and in struggling with what to do next, I’ve come to a similar sort of decision to Fiona. My number one criteria for doing something is going to be is it fun? Does it inspire me? Is it something that I feel is worthwhile? If I can then parlay it into publishing or a way to make money, fine. If not, then the act of having created it is all I need.

    • Commiserations on the bad news, Nicole. Taking the pressure off yourself and writing for the love of it can sometimes be the turning point. Either way, I admire your attitude.

  2. I’m not sure whether this makes me sound like an egotistical prat or a sulky kid picking up her toys and going home . If a publisher comes beating a path to my door, I’m certainly not going to Greta Garbo them. I just think I write better when I’m not second guessing what some anonymous editor at a not so anonymous publishing house is going to think of every line. I write because I love it. I don’t love it when I can’t write.

    • Hi Fiona, I don’t think this is about ego, but about getting back to basics which is the writing. If we don’t love our characters and stories, how can we expect others to? Thanks for inspiring a thought-provoking blog.

  3. Great article, Valerie. Even though I write for publication, not everything I write gets published. Some of the stories on my computer are really just for me. Some I need to delete so the kids don’t read them after I die. They’re mostly emotional dumps onto the computer screen, a way to get frustrations out so they don’t spill over into my books. Some things I’ve started, thinking they might go somewhere, but don’t. I have so many files with just three chapters in them that I really need to delete, but I never know when inspiration might strike and I’ll figure out how to finish them.

    I have poems I’ve written after a particularly traumatic event, like my father’s death, that are just for me. I’ll read them occasionally, but I won’t publish them. And that’s okay.

    • Wow Tori, I’d better check my hard drive for things I don’t want read after I die. Like you, it would be unfinished stories that didn’t go as far as I’d hoped. Nothing racy if my relatives are reading this. I also write poems purely to deal with life events. Only one has ever been published and the editor was a standover merchant LOL.

      • I’ve had one poem published, too, Valerie. A poem I wrote on 9/11. But that emotion was something shared with millions. It’s the private emotions I want kept private.

  4. I decided the same thing not long ago. I was nearing a milestone birthday (a load of rejections in my files) and thought “is this how I want to spend my years? Missing out of days in the garden and lunch with friends.” So I said – “I’ll try one more thing”. That was writing my way (not trying to write what I thought I should be writing.) I reinvented myself in a way – created a brand which in a way helped me find my mojo (and voice) and I just wrote what i felt (and did 50ks over the 2010 NanoWriMo).
    I said “if this doesn;t sell, that’s okay.” I was resigned to not being published and was content with that. Then…. the call. So sometimes when you least expect it… I think the pushing and angst we put ourselves thru when we try too hard can be our downfall.
    After selling those two books I am now doing the RWA’s 50ks in 30 days and trying for a third – becasue you never know!
    Another very informative post VP

  5. After being told by an agent the type of story I write (and love to read) is “not commercial enough,” I came to the same conclusion as Fiona. I had a copy of my book printed by an online company and now I’m sharing it with family and friends who seem interested in it. Sometimes I do find it hard to justify spending so much time on something that has no tangible “return.” But then I remind myself that golf doesn’t either!

    • Greta, have you thought about publishing your book yourself on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords? I’ve sold 100,000 copies of books turned down by editors and agents, and I’m gaining loyal fans. I’ve learned what publishers want and agents want is not necessarily what the public wants.

      • You already know I’m thrilled with your success, Tori. You’re the poster girl for indie publishing. And for hard work, commitment and good writing.

    • Greta, Your book certainly does have a “return” and is perfectly in the spirit of my blog – it gives pleasure to you and those who read your book, and it’s there for posterity. Try doing that with a game of golf!

    • Sami Lee said:

      Golf! Snort. You could say the same for fishing, but plenty of people do that for hours on end.

  6. I wrote for myself for years — long novels. I never showed anyone what I wrote. When I finished one, I started another. I wrote for my kids too, and read it to them. It was like learning how to play the piano, and then just playing when you feel like it — you just do it for your own satisfaction. The joy of creation is in many ways its own reward.

    Now I write for publication. Do I still enjoy it? Yes, but there’s also a feeling that there’s always someone looking over my shoulder, and it’s not quite the same…

    • Good analogy, Glenda. I tried learning piano for over a year, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Might blog about what that taught me on writing, too. Yes Margaret, Tori’s story is inspirational. There’s more on her blog, Tori tells all I think ultimately we all have to write for ourselves, whether there’s a publisher waiting in the wings or not. Only when that awareness damages the process do we need to take a step away.

  7. After reading Tori’s story, I’m inspired. I was beginning to feel that self-publishing was fatally flawed, but not now.
    Like Greta, I write for myself. I write the type of stories that I want to read. I could never write something that someone else prescribed; that would be anathema to my soul. No, I write what I like to read, and if no-one else approves, well, I’m a bit regretful: but having said that I would still cling to my own beliefs.

  8. I mean I get what your friend is saying with regards to the ‘pressure of writing to get published’ but I think it’s only pressuring if you let it be. I think if you write what you love and love what you write then it should be amazing regardless, and thankfully we live in an incredible time for authors. We have more options than ever with regards to ‘publication’ you don’t have to be published by a traditional publisher to sell and sell well.

    • She isn’t dismissing it entirely, AJ, just taking it off her list while she gets back the joy of writing for its own sake. I get the guilt thing, too.

  9. Sami Lee said:

    Great post. I hit a ditch in my writing career just as it was taking off and lost my way completely. The only way I could get back to writing was to approach it as though what I was writing would never be looked at by anyone else. I wrote with a pen in a notebook, like I used to in the beginning. I honestly didn’t care if the book was published, and that enabled me to write something unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It took all the expectation and pressure out of the experience and made it exciting again.

    As it turned out, that book is now being published and I’m thrilled. But even if it hadn’t been I would have been satisfied with what I’d done. I was proud of the work and that was what truly mattered.

    I wish Fiona all the best in her endeavours.

    • Have done a lot of fishing in my younger days, Sami Lee. I was just as happy with no bait on the hook. Best do-nothing excuse ever. And congratulations on achieving your dream, showing how writing for yourself first can really work.

  10. Reblogged this on princessfiona01 and commented:
    Part of my 15 minutes of fame.

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