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Monday, August 1, 2011

What Writers Really Want (Versus What We're Often Told We Should Want)

When you start off writing, as I did, coming from a completely different field, you’re pretty susceptible to what other writers tell you. And so you should be. Who better to guide you along the long and tortuous journey to Authordom than other published writers, right? So I did my due diligence, read every writing, reading and publishing book I could get my grubby little hands on. I honed my skills, joined crit groups, solicited feedback, wrote and revised, and wrote and revised some more. And it’s all been great because I've learned a great deal about craft and people and life and myself along the way.

But there’s one thing that has always bothered the heck out of me.

It’s when I hear: Writers shouldn’t want to be published. (At least, not as their primary objective.) And: Writers should want to write because they are driven to.

I don’t know about you, but isn’t that like saying, "Don’t drive because you want to get somewhere. Drive because of the journey."? Hey, I’m all for the journey. Why else would I have titled this blog the way I did? But darn it, at some point, you got to get somewhere. Not to mention that annoying little fact that in order to put gas in the car, you need to make a little money along the way.

Not all writing books say this, nor has every experienced writer I've solicited advice from, but enough have that it makes me wonder WTF they’re thinking. Can we step down from our 50% cotton fiber tower for a second to be, um, real?

Why do we write?

There’s no one answer to that question, of course. Passion, boredom, desire for control, to influence, to move. But the endgame is the same: we all want to reach out to someone else. We’re storytellers and story creators, we’re tellers of tales and passers of information. And all of that implies an audience, which requires publishing in at least one of its many manifestations.

Why am I going off on this now?

Simple: it's all about control. For decades, writers have had none. Okay, maybe a little. But whatever control we have in creating content becomes quickly lost in the old publishing model. I don’t need to explain; it’s glaringly clear what I mean. And for decades, this model worked. Why? Because it was really the only one out there. Self-pubbing and going indie equated to vanity. It permitted some to do what they wanted to do while circumventing “the model.” But let’s be honest, it could never achieve what “the model” could. All that is changing. There's a new kid on the block, and he's sticking up for underdog.

Writers want to publish. We want to reach readers. We want to entice and cajole, excite, thrill, inform and...we want to touch. As many people as we can. As quickly as we can. In exactly the way we envisioned we could. For the first time, that’s becoming within reach of the masses. Publishing is experiencing a democratization that's long overdue.

It’s hard work, of course, but then again, why should it be easy? Hard, but no longer impossible.

So, stop telling me I should write because of the journey, or because I’m driven, or because it’s my passion. I know all those things already. Stop discouraging me from keeping my eye on the end zone. This is my game, and for once the rules are in my favor.

I will be hosting a guest blogger tomorrow, Saul Tanpepper, who will talking about "What Readers Really Want (that Publishers Fail to Understand)." I've known Saul a long time, since we were kids, but our paths separated and only recently crossed at a local book signing 2500 miles from where we both grew up. Ironically, our paths have taken us on similar trajectories: I studied molecular and cell biology and worked for biotech before writing, whereas Saul studied molecular genetics and taught. Saul has been my self-publishing spiritual guide for the past six months.


  1. The subject is rather like asking, "art--process or product?" Why create it if you don't want someone else to see it?

    I agree and I disagree--it depends on your focus. I know quite a few writers who like to blog, like to journal. And they have no intention of being published, they just like the ability to put the words to the paper and focus thoughts and feelings. Doesn't make them any less writers. Same thing with that art--if I create the sculpture, painting, what have you for myself, it's not intended for an audience. Doesn't make me any less an artist and for me art is the process of creation.

    Now, if the truth be told, you and I are in it for the sharing of the story. Publication is the goal for us. But it's not for everyone and I respect that. And they're still writers. :-)

  2. I totally get what you're saying, Jesse (and, BTW, welcome to The Writer's RoadTrip). I guess I'm speaking to all those artists out there who want to reach out, because it's these people who go through the same or similar process that I did (basically learning the craft by apprenticeship). It's not to ignore or dismiss those who truly wish to create simply for the pleasure of it; however, these folks are less likely to seek out guidance in the same way, and so are less likely to be told to ignore the endpoint (ie., publishing). I see too many writers today who are sadly underprepared for the brave new digital world simply because they've been told not to worry about anything BUT the process. We're in the midst of a massive paradigm shift that gives writers more control over not just the process, but the product.

  3. In which case, I agree with you 100% then. If you're going out of your way to learn, then there's a reason--and that pretty much ends in "publishing." Or "published." So, that makes sense.

    And thank you for the welcome. Found your blog on G+ and the subject fascinated me. Had to read and join in. :-)

  4. Great post! I couldn't agree more. Thanks for sharing!

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