Most of my life I figured I was just a wannabe writer. I had written little stories and poems, kept journals, and even tried to produce a neighborhood newspaper when I was about 8 years old. I may have had ink flowing through my veins, but, I had never published a thing. In my mind, I wasn’t a real writer.
Nope, today you’re still not published and you’re still not a writer. But keep trying.
Along with that thinking came the belief that I would never be good enough until someone else thought I was good enough. Good enough to pay me for my writing, bind it into books and publish it everywhere for everyone to see. Yessiree, once I got the nod and backing of real editor in the real publishing industry, then I would be a legitimate writer, I thought.
I can only imagine what sort of negative, self-defeating messages that sent to my evolving psyche, to wake up every day telling myself, “Nope, today you’re still not published and you’re still not a writer. But keep trying.”
All writers are on their own journey and may be at different places on the writing path.
Pressure to publish
Maybe my problem wasn’t my talent, I thought. Maybe it was more about what I was writing? Maybe if I wrote about more popular, trendy, topics I could catch the eye of an editor at a publishing house. After all, isn’t getting something — anything! — published better than being unpublished?
The trouble with that line of thought was that I didn’t want to write about trendy topics like children, or murder or vampires. My ideas and passions lay in other areas. Why should I become something I’m not and deny and distort my own voice? When we write the stories that only we can write, they become deeper, richer, more interesting. We also are keeping control of our lives and direction.
I’ve learned the hard way that placing so much emphasis on getting published and becoming super successful takes the focus and energy away from writing and puts it all on the goal of ”the deal.” All writers are on their own journey and may be at different places on the writing path. That doesn’t make any of us more “real” than another. Real writers write, whether they are published or not.
Sizing up the room
The other day I went to an Idaho Writer’s Guild luncheon and wandered through a room full of local writers, most of whom I had never met before. I began to ponder, “I wonder who in this room has published a book? How many have an agent? How many books have they written? What do these people write about?” I knew what I was doing … I was sizing up who was a bigger, better, realer writer than me. Sure, I get paid for my writing, and I’m published in magazines and newspapers, and I wrote a little book last year, but I don’t have an agent or a national publishing contract. Did that mean that those with an agent and a national publishing contract were better writers?
Perhaps. But perhaps they also wrote a book about something that an editor was looking for right at that moment. Maybe they aren’t all that much more wonderful than I am but they have a great agent that found them an opportunity. Maybe they worked really hard at sending out proposals (something that I definitely need to work on more) and something clicked for them. There are many factors involved in publishing, from having superb talent to crazy luck to being in the right place at the right time. Therefore, does that make me less of a “real writer” than those who were further along the path?
So let’s stop focusing our goals on getting that contract…
In retrospect, I imagine there were several writers in that very room who have not been published anywhere at all, but who probably knew way more about writing and the publishing business than I. And, I feel fortunate that I can learn from those unpublished folks.
So let’s stop focusing our goals on getting that contract, and just continue down our own path. The majority of writers I know began writing to fulfill a talent, create new ideas, express a burning passion, and share their love of words with whomever will read them. It is art. It’s creativity. And while being published is a good thing, I think a more productive goal is to simply focus on the words and stories that we love to write…the ones that make us the Real Writers we are…and the rest will come.