How important to you is it to get your writing published? We’re probably all familiar to some degree with the feeling of “flow”, that creative euphoria you experience when immersed in creation, and we’re also probably acquainted with the intense (and rare) sense of personal satisfaction that comes from having created something that resembles (or even exceeds) something we conceptualized before we sat down to create it. And then, of course, there’s that very different experience: the clotted/congested sensation of ushering it into the understandably indifferent world that reacts with form rejections or silence. So do you care? Or to phrase it differently: Would you still write if there were no chance of getting your work published?
I’ve been thinking about this for a couple days, and I’m pretty sure that for me, the answer is yes. But I’m not sure I’d write exactly the same things. (Which is ironic, because it’s not like I’m trying to “appease an audience” or something. What audience? Which means any adjustments I make to something I write are rooted in my own perception of how some imaginary reader out in the world might perceive the book or story, not a reaction to anything actually, you know, real.) If I were writing only for myself, with absolutely no consideration of anyone else ever seeing it, I wouldn’t worry about craft much, if at all. I’d write down my dreams in the morning and focus almost entirely on content, chasing dream interpretations. Part of what I’m saying is that worrying about your readership makes you a better writer, a far more skilled writer.
We sometimes like to think of our favorite writers as “pure” in a certain way… like they’re writing only for themselves, producing some document of their internal landscape which they then toss out the window and the world finds and goes, “Whoa,” and the writer’s like, “Oh yeah, I just coughed that up,” and the world’s like, “It’s so interesting, the inside of your mind.” But I feel instinctive suspicion of a writer who demands that the reader cross the bridge from one end to the other rather than engineering a meeting somewhere in the middle. (I’m not “arguing against” experimental or deliberately challenging writers in a larger sense or something… I don’t want this to be interpreted that way. I’m expressing a very subjective impression.)
Does the color of blood really change from blue to red when it’s exposed to oxygen? Actually, no. The expectation of a readership, even a small one, is an expectation of judgment, and that expectation can inspire self-censorship or an unwillingness to take risks but ideally also refinement of craft/ability/talent. Also, you would never get to see the good shit if your favorite writers didn’t want your love, except for Kafka, and in that case let’s all just appreciate Max Brod’s betrayal.
Photo by Michael Gesinger © 2007