The Inherent Value in Writing

(Or, Publication does not a Writer Make)

The thing I always felt publishing would do for me is give me an answer to that dreadful question. That question that comes up at a dinner party, or a wedding, whenever you meet someone new. Inevitably you have ink on your face and the lighting is strong enough to illuminate your forthcoming shame. For one reason or another–perhaps you are just feeling brave, or desperate–you mention that you write. One of two things follow, and the only exception is when you are talking to another writer. The first, some variation of I’ve got this story that would make a fantastic book followed by a blow-by-blow description is dreary. This is still preferable to the other thing people say, which shuts your heart in a box and drops it into the ocean.

“So, have you had anything published?”

Did the room just get as hot as Hades? (In this moment I always fantasised that Moon-Face’s lovely slippery slip would appear.) You might stutter, “Oh, a few small things in magazines,” but that never cuts it. The person you were talking to wilts like a flower and the light goes out of their eyes. While you fumble for a change of subject, they are already seeking someone more successful and fascinating in the room, aided by the tangible embarrassment and shame emanating from your very pores.

manuscripts 1
Some drafts (certainly enough to kill any sense) of the first novel I finished that I was absolutely confident would be published. In many ways it is utterly unreadable, but man, I had some fun with it. It reads like Maldoror bred with Proust.

Publication seems like it’s going to solve so many problems. When we are published we think we will feel justified, relevant. We think inspiration will flow and our sentences will be sound. If we poke deeper, we can unearth a desire for meaning, belonging and approval. We hope that publishing will make us enough.

Every book on writing I’ve ever read says the same thing (and I’ve read a few; books about writing are the least guilt-inducing procrastination I know).

Almost every single thing you hope publication will do for you is a fantasy. (Anne LaMotte)

It’s useful to question the belief that publishing a book will change our lives for the better. The only thing that will make our lives better is to change our perspective of how we are, right now.  An enthusiastic inner critic will always find a reason for rejection, until we learn how to shut them up. Wanting to be a writer is the very worst reason to write, and your story will reflect that desperation. But when you love writing more than anything, and forget about yourself and your future fame, your words will start to breathe.

I’d love for my books to be read by children everywhere, but it’s not my primary motivation to write. I am going to write for the sake of the present, not for the future. I will fight to keep the process fun and meaningful, because writing is not just for reading. Writing is a great way to be curious, to make meaning and to live.

manuscripts 3

6 Comments

  1. Great post Romy. “. Wanting to be a writer is the very worst reason to write, and your story will reflects that desperation. But when you love writing more than anything, and forget about yourself and your future fame, your words will start to breathe.” Soooo true. I think the same applies to painting or other activity. Passion is key and will keep you going when all else fails which of course it will….

    by Grey Gibson
    • Absolutely Grey, ulterior motives lead to dissatisfaction. Good point about failure. Is this why so many give up, because the reason for their work coming into being is external approval?

      by romy zunde
  2. Interesting :) I get around the “have you had anything published?” question by leaping in first, immediately after telling someone I’m a writer, to say that I don’t write novels. Interest wanes immediately and we can all go on living our happy lives ;)

    I agree writing is best done for the love of writing, the love of telling a story. But, and I can’t believe I can say this, I appreciate rejection as the next best thing to publication, because rejection is a chance to learn—about your editor and where else your writing might fit. If I sit rejection next to publication, I can start to see patterns I can use.

    Publication is a small, momentary win next to the enormous, life-long blessing of loving to write :)

    by g
    • Oh dear. Probably that’s why writers bang on when we get together, because it’s so refreshing to talk about the craft rather than the accolades. I get it about the writing fit thing; there is one magazine that has accepted everything I’ve sent them, they just seem to like my style. Man it took a while to find them though! Congrats on your recent piece accepted too, G! Might not be a good reason to write, but it is a lovely thing to see your work in print in a quality publicationxx

      by romy zunde
  3. I love this post Romy! It’s such a great reminder, I keep getting anxious about not spending enough time writing, or working on something totally different to what I feel like I should be working on. I should really just be enjoying the moment because it’s the process of writing that’s the gift, not the rewards I (imagine) the work might bring xx

    by Rosie Croft
    • Another thing Clarissa Pinkola Estes talks about (in the audio I mentioned to you) is the cycles of creativity, using the framework of the Demeter myth. It’s important to not just run the creative river dry. We need to let the writing dictate the pace. (Still, I use Nanowrimo to get my drafts done! I prepare for it by doing things other than writing leading up, such as editing, painting).

      by romy zunde