How Writing “for Publication” (Nearly) Killed My Love for The Craft

Okay, oUntitledkay—let’s take a step back for a minute.

My love for writing is certainly nowhere near dead, but for a short while there, I was worrying it might be. I haven’t been writing much at all lately (or, technically, not just “lately.” My productivity has been dropping for quite some time now, as many of my blog posts this year have shown). When I do try to muster the strength to write, I often find excuses to avoid it or discourage myself with negative thoughts about my skills, my works in progress, or the likelihood that I’ll continue my writing streak. I’ve always been hard on myself, but I do remember a time when I enjoyed writing and persevered even when it wasn’t going so smoothly—so what’s different now?

I think I’ve made a mistake this past year or two that’s seriously hindered the enjoyment I’ve always found in writing, and maybe my skills themselves, to some extent: I’ve been focusing too heavily on “getting published” and not enough on writing good stories that make me happy.

Now, for someone whose ultimate goal is to see her books on shelves, it makes sense that I’d do some research on the publishing process and apply that knowledge to my work. In fact, for a while, the things I was learning through various industry blogs and podcasts greatly helped my writing, as I started seeing my plot and characters from the point of views of readers, editors, agents, and publishers—not just from my excited god-playing eyes. I identified weaknesses in my process and my stories, themselves, and even received some excellent feedback from an editor who rejected a short story I was submitting around this time last year. I thought I was on the right track, and for a while, I was. Until I wasn’t.

Now, don’t get me wrong—if you want your work published, especially traditionally so, you need to have some insider knowledge. But I did something that the authors from one of my favorite insider sources, the podcast Writing Excuses, often warn against: I let my obsession with seeing my name on a book spine eclipse the hard work it takes to get there. I focused too heavily on the end, and often overlooked the means. As a result, I continuously found myself in this vicious cycle:

  1. Open up Fleeting, my Fantasy work in progress, which I was convinced would be my first published novel.
  2. Realize that I haven’t worked on it in some time because I’ve taken too long (3 years and counting) to work through this first draft and I’m completely disengaged from the story, and as a result, I have no idea where to begin.
  3. Get overwhelmed. Close the project and consider working on some writing prompts, or a short story I’m excited about, instead.
  4. Decide against those options. They aren’t pieces I can publish, so why waste my time when I could be working on my WIP? They say young writers should “finish everything they start,” so I shouldn’t start a new project until I’m done with this one.
  5. Open up WIP one more time. Get overwhelmed again. Close it and give up on writing for the night entirely.

Let me just emphasize this: this pattern is toxic. You’d think that after all the podcasts I’ve listened to, all the blog posts I’ve read, all the advice I’ve doled out myself, I’d have realized way before this point that it’s okay (if not necessary) to put down my WIP if it’s discouraging me from writing altogether. It’s okay to work on something that probably won’t get published, because those pieces are often the ones that shape our writing the most. And it’s okay to just have fun with your first drafts and not worry so much about what an agent or publisher will think, because forced writing is stiff. The writing you enjoy working on is the writing readers enjoy reading, and it’s the only kind that breathes that proverbial life into its world and its characters.

Of course, this may not be the case for those who are already published and have deadlines to meet for future publications—but for authors like myself, who have still yet to come close to publishing a work, I feel it’s best to enjoy the writing first and shape it for publication later. That’s what revisions are for!

So, I’m going to take some of my own advice for once and cut myself some slack. Rather than force my way through a story I’m not currently enjoying writing, I’m going to pick up Faye’s new e-book Writember and get to work on making enjoyable writing a daily habit.

What do you write for fun? Is publication a factor when working on a first draft, or is it something that doesn’t come into play until you’re in revisions? Let me know!

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10 thoughts on “How Writing “for Publication” (Nearly) Killed My Love for The Craft

  1. Pingback: A New Approach |

  2. I know exactly what you mean. Publication can so easily become an obsession for writers, so much so that actual writing takes a back seat. And you need to write or you will never get published. I started writing a serial story on my blog, posting a 1000 word or so episode each week, and it is turning out to be one of the funnest things I’ve written because I haven’t put any pressure on myself to get it published. Sometimes we just need to stop obsessing about publishing and just sit down and write the book you want to read. I think having goals help, but also to be flexible with those goals if you don’t reach them in the time you gave yourself. And a regular writing routine is important. Making yourself write at the same time, even if you don’t feel like it, and turning off the internet during that time, will help get words out whether they be good or bad, and is something a lot of published writers do. I always find if I don’t want to write, but do it anyway, by the end of the session I don’t want to stop.

  3. *Sorry this comment is so long, I got a bit carried away.* :P I know this post is from a while ago, but I just came across it and it really struck a chord with me. Like, are we the same person? Because this is EXACTLY what has been happening to me over the past few years! Throughout high school I became really obsessed with the thought of getting published. In those days I just cranked out novels with complete abandon (and had a lot of fun with it!) and was convinced that publishing wouldn’t be so bad.

    But … then I actually started researching the process, and submitting to agents, and the rejections started piling in. I persevered for a couple years with a few different manuscripts, but over all it was very exhausting and discouraging. Now it’s been years since I submitted anything at all. Worse than that, though, it’s been years since I finished writing a book. And nowadays when I do write, I’m just completely overwhelmed with doubt to the point where I’m paralyzed and stop writing. A lot of the time, I feel like I’ve lost my love for writing––even though I know that’s not true, but it sure feels that way.

    I’m trying really hard to let go of those inhibitions and just enjoy writing again. My advisor this past year (who is a poet and writing professor) told me that you have to just ignore those “inner demons” telling you you’ll never measure up to your favorite writers. You’re not going to be like them because you’re *you* and you have your own unique voice. … So you have to focus on finding the joy in telling a story, rather than on worrying that you won’t be published/famous. I found that advice very helpful.

    • Hi Brigid! Sorry for the delayed response–I was on vacation when you posted!

      Thanks so much for your comment :) I’m so glad this was helpful, and I love that advice your advisor gave you. I still have a hard time with writing lately because I can’t quite let go of my “inner demons” (how can you, when you’re reading amazing writing like that of Gillian Flynn?), but I’m working on it. Maybe once I figure it out, I can write a follow-up post to this with some tips… but I’m not entirely sure when that might be!

      Again, I’m glad you found this relatable–although, technically, I’m not because I wouldn’t wish this paralyzing fear on anyone. Argh!

      Hope all is well!

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