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:
- Open up Fleeting, my Fantasy work in progress, which I was convinced would be my first published novel.
- 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.
- Get overwhelmed. Close the project and consider working on some writing prompts, or a short story I’m excited about, instead.
- 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.
- 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!