Monday, March 2, 2009

Why Publish?

I've got this friend ... well, not truly a friend as much as someone I knew many years ago. She maintains a blog that I read occasionally, and I don't know really know anything about the circumstances of her life, but I know that I truly enjoy her writing. She's got talent -- and I tend to believe that real talent is pretty rare. She's got a great voice. It's funny. It's heartfelt. It's even sad sometimes. 

I once considered writing her, just to touch base but also to say, "I really enjoy your writing. You're supergood. You should write a book ..."

But I didn't. Because it crossed my mind that maybe she doesn't want to write a book. Maybe she's perfectly happy expressing herself on her blog. Maybe her fabulous voice and wonderful writing bring her a quiet pleasure, and she has no need to push the envelope and subject herself to the mill of rejection and criticism that publication requires.

And is this so bad? 

I wonder, what makes some people so hell bent on getting published, while others could really care less? I can think of two very, very successful writers who both decided one day they wanted to be writers, so they started writing. Nearly obsessively. And today, they've both sold tens of millions of books and are among the most well-known names in publishing. But I also think it's pretty obvious that neither is reeking with talent. Their prose is OK. Their stories are, you know, good. But it's not earth-shattering stuff, and it won't survive the ages. These two authors became writers through sheer force of will.

So what is it? Why does it matter so much to some people, while for others it's a passing diversion? 

I can't even answer this question for myself. I just know that the drive to publish has been hard-wired into me since I was little. Even when I kept a private journal, I considered it exercise for "real" writing. It just is. 

What about you? Do you need to be published? Why?


Jude Hardin said...

Writing is one of the ways I satisfy my need to be creative. Publishing, to me, just seems like the next logical step.

I suppose ego comes into play, thinking we're good enough to charge money for what we do.

Mark Terry said...

No kidding.

I'm glad I discovered I wanted to be a writer and I'm very glad I make a living as one. But I started this whole gig thinking I was going to do this via novels. No use wishing you could change your path, but there are definitely times when I wish I'd discovered the nonfiction thing a whole lot earlier.

Making a living as a writer and being regularly published somewhat mediates the hunger to be a novelist (which I am). I do think to really make it as a novelist you've got to be really hungry for it, because it's so damned hard, not just getting published, but staying there after you are.

LurkerMonkey said...


The money thing ... yeah, it definitely figures into it for me. My wife thinks it's a cold-blooded way to look at things, but I'm pretty much a bottom-line kind of guy, and to me, there's a HUGE difference between a good piece of writing and a good piece of writing that someone will pay for.

LurkerMonkey said...


I've heard you say that kind of thing before. It makes me wonder: if you could forgo fiction in favor of getting started on nonfiction earlier, would you have?

spyscribbler said...

One of my pet peeves is that the writing community does not support and encourage amateurs, people who just do it for the love of writing. Everything becomes "Are you published?" and "Are you a 'real' writer?"

However, people tend not to know their own talent. There's nothing wrong with saying, "You write such tender and heartfelt stuff! I wish I could read a whole stack of novels by you." (But that's coming from a teacher who thinks it's her duty to point out people's talents.)

Personally, I have zero desire to be published "for real," but I'm too lazy to write without money or readers. I love writing a lot... but I'm just motivated by readers and money. This means writing for NY sorta falls in the cracks for me. I already have readers and I'm guaranteed money somewhere else, so it's hard for me to write for NY when I'm not guaranteed money or readers, LOL.

LurkerMonkey said...


That's a great point about amateurs versus "real" writers and the writing community. Is it a validation issue, you think? Maybe. Personally, I think it's wonderful if people write for themselves, and I sort of wish I was better at it. Truth is, I'm just not. Maybe like you said, I'm motivated by readers and money. But even that doesn't ring 100% true -- if money were my only motivation, I would never be a writer at all. For me, part of it is the sheer challenge of the thing. I think that money happens to be a pretty good yard stick...

Zoe Winters said...

This is a thought I've been turning over in my head for awhile.

When I finally started thinking MY thoughts instead of the thoughts I was "supposed to think" as a writer, when I finally started following MY goals and wishes, instead of what I'm "supposed to want" as a writer, I landed in this weird little indie/self publishing motley crew of people.

I had to really think long and hard if reaching the highest mountain was really what I wanted here, and what would feed my soul.

If there is room out there for lovely writers who don't want to be published, and lovely writers who do want to be published, then there is also room for lovely writers who just want to put their own work out their in their own way, which isn't to say I self describe as a 'lovely writer' but I digress.

Amy Nathan said...

Why publish is akin to why play an instrument for others -- when we love what we do we want to share it, bring pleasure to more than just ourselves, do it for "a living" and make it more than a hobby (not that a hobbyist is not a real writer). To me publishing a novel would also be the next logical step after publishing a lot of articles and essays. Writing a book has been my greatest joy and challenge to date -- next to parenthood.

LurkerMonkey said...


Two years ago, I would have said (and did say) that the indie route didn't have much promise. But after watching the last 18 mos. in the publishing biz, I'm seeing things with new eyes. It'll be interesting to see where self-pubbing and indie presses fit into the Kindle future.

LurkerMonkey said...


I strongly resonate with the idea of a "next logical step." I think it took me about six years just to get the discipline to write a long-form novel ... for a long time, I always thought, "Three hundred pages! No way I could EVER write that much!" And yeah, it would be great to make a living sharing the thing that makes me happiest ...

Mark Terry said...

I'm not sure I have an answer. Initially I didn't start writing nonfiction because I was attracted to it, I wrote it because somebody suggested I specifically write something and see what happens. I'd queried some NF before that went nowhere, but when someone else said, "Hey, we'd like you to write an article about us for this magazine," and I pitched it to them, I got the gig, which turned into more and more. For the longest time it was fiction or nothing, and looking back at it, that's not terribly surprising.

I'm where I'm at because of the route I took. It was a bizarre route and definitely not in a straight line, but I think I had a lot to learn, about writing, about marketing, and probably about myself. I've found myself through writing nonfiction in a way I maybe never did through fiction. That isn't to say I don't love writing fiction, I do--it's my own mental trampoline. But that analytical guy who's curious about a lot of different, sometimes technical things, is kind of a wonk, but believes there's great value in taking difficult subjects and making them clear and transparent--that's very much me and that became much more clear to me when I started writing nonfiction.

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Lurker:
When I was 21, one of the guys I hung out with was a Vietnam vet that I consider the best living writer I know. He was BRILLIANT. Over the years has has struggled with mental illness, and this year the Christmas card I sent was mailed back as addressee moved/no forward. My heart pretty much dropped to the floor.

And all I know is he didn't pursue being published. I STILL compare much of what I write to him. I still remember this one short story he wrote. And I don't think it was a burning desire to see things in print for him, or else he maybe decided the pressure wasn't for him.

Considering I have one client who has not paid me for some writing I did in January and I am "thisclose" to hiring an attorney (it's not chump change), the pressure cooker isn't fun when you solely derive your income from writing, let alone fiction. So I don't know . . . last night I had a dream I was bartending. Maybe it's a sign. ;-)