A couple of weeks ago I shared a twelve-year-old writer’s request for help publishing her novels. I asked for responses to pass on to the young writer and have shared those here, too. Today let’s bring the topic back to ourselves, the grown-up writers out there longing for, needing publication.
Of course writers need to be published, because we need to share our work. It’s as hard for most of us to write in a closet as it would be to play a violin in one. But there are many ways of sharing, and that is the gift of today’s wide-ranging publication opportunities. We can even share by handing a manuscript around to family and friends, electronically or on paper.
But when most people talk about publishing, handing a manuscript around is not what they’re talking about. They are talking about selling. They may even be talking about earning a living as a writer.
It has long struck me that writing is the only artistic field where the world seems to assume that anyone who practices it must surely be a professional. If you play the piano, no one asks you when you were last on a concert stage. If you paint, your friends probably don’t expect your work to be on display in museums. But if you write, everyone asks, “Have you been published?”
It’s as though publication is the only goal. It’s also as though having a broad public audience for our words is the only justification for writing at all.
When I taught at Vermont College of Fine Arts, we repeatedly–and understandably–found ourselves working with students in the MFA in Writing program who were desperate to publish. And the first lesson we had to teach those who came filled to the brim with such a need was to put aside the desperation, to put aside even the thought of publication, to concentrate simply and wholly on the work. Only when they could do that–truly do it–could they begin to grow as writers.
That’s an attitude even a publishing writer must carry with her through her career. We all need to learn that it’s the process that matters! Everything else, even publication–in some ways, particularly publication–is secondary to the writing itself.
And that’s the good news. Why? Because publication is hard. Even self-publishing takes stamina as well as funds. Publishing is also sporadic even in the most fertile career. If it comes at all, it comes only at irregular intervals. And the satisfactions that attend a book’s birth are short lived.
Writing, on the other hand, is something we can wake to every single morning. The process will feed us, enrich us, satisfy the deepest and most hidden of our needs. Curiously enough, if we are writing truly, writing can satisfy even those needs we don’t know how to name. And it does all that with or without publication.
I know if you are standing on the other side of your first major publication, these words must seem hackneyed, even insensitive. Sure! Tell the homeless man how much he should enjoy the fresh outdoor air! And I’ll admit that, if I had read what I’m saying now back in the days when I was longing for publication, I would have been unimpressed. The truth is, I probably would have been pissed.
But my words remain true, nonetheless. Writing is its own reward.
It is an act that blesses itself.
However successful our careers may be–or not–that’s something we would all do well to remember.