Why do you write?
That question has surfaced various times over the years, usually in writer’s groups meetings or at conferences. More recently, it’s become the one question that I believe has determined my path.
It’s pretty easy at first, when your heart is full of the marvel of creating, and your eyes are full of stars as you first glimpse “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” to say you write just for writing’s sake. There’s that first moment, full of trepidation, when you step forward and say to the world, “I am a writer!” It can be by admitting to family that you have a story going. Or the first time you venture into a local writer’s group meeting. Or—that bigger, more financially risky step of attending a writer’s conference.
The initial terror washes away before a rush of awe. “I AM a writer!” you realize. And that awe can carry you for a good, long time.
But then it gets rough. You get your first inkling of just how long this journey can be. (Not just a year, but five years? Ten? Longer??) That’s when you have to decide, am I in this for the long haul, whether or not my work ever gets published?
Let me just say, it isn’t wrong to want to be published! Although writing is a solitary occupation, the arranging of words on paper or a screen, we all hope that someone, somewhere, will read what we’ve written and enjoy it. Publishing is just the process by which our work is made available to the reader—whether online (putting something on a blog is considered “publishing” it by the industry, so there’s a reason to be careful what you post) or in physical print, like a newsletter or a book.
Our motives, however, for being published—that’s another thing entirely. Humans are hardwired to want to do things that give others enjoyment … but when that desire gets twisted into wanting or needing the admiration of others, so that our main validation comes from what people say or think about it us, well, that isn’t healthy.
The thing is, the craving for publication—for the validation that getting published provides—is so sneaky that we often can’t recognize it for what it is. But how do we respond when the disappointments come? Do we crash emotionally for days (weeks?) after an editor turns down a story, or we get word that our work didn’t final in a contest? Do we seethe with jealousy and resentment when we hear that someone we know has snagged an agent or gotten a contract? Do we find it especially difficult at those times to keep on writing, because an inner voice keeps whispering that we’re such a reject?
There are other signs that we could be more driven by love of validation than love of story. One is an impatience with the process of becoming a better writer—or an inner denial that there is such a process. You wouldn’t believe how many writers I’ve met who don’t think they need to focus on the “journey” at all, who talk about being published like it’s a destination to arrive at, rather than a higher level of responsibility.
In fact, once upon a time, I was one of those writers.
(continued in part 2)
- Think about your own reasons for writing. Have they changed over time?
- Think about those terms, love of validation vs. love of story. What do they mean to you?
- In what ways do you struggle with an unhealthy craving for recognition? How can this contradict but coexist with the struggle to see our own value? Be honest!