Writing and Publishing and Despair

I wrote this for a friend of mine who is in that hard place where you know you’re good enough to be published and the professional writers that you show your stories to all agree that you’re good enough, but you just haven’t hit the right editor yet. My friend knows that I had a long road to walk to get to where I am now in the writing world and wanted to know what I had done when I was in the hard places. This is my advice:

Mostly, it’s just write. I know the publication side of things is a goal that we all aim for. But it’s not, at root ,what keeps most of us writing. Certainly not me. I write because I can’t not. I write because it makes me happy. I write because it gives me a place to put all the shit in my head. I write because it keeps me sane. I write because not writing hurts.

I write because deep down in the bone, it’s all about the work. Publishing is what I do so that I can keep writing. Publishing regularly means that I get to do a lot more writing than I would if I had to do something else to put bread on the table, but publishing isn’t the goal. Writing is. It always has been.

That’s where I go when I hit my worst writing moments. Sometimes it takes me a while—days, weeks, months once—to find my way back to that place. To remember that publishing is a tool in service of the writing, which is the real goal, and not the other way around, but it’s coming back to that place that keeps me going on the bad days.

You didn’t write that last story to get published. At least I don’t think you did. Though publishing it was certainly a goal, I don’t think that’s what got you excited about the idea. I don’t think that’s what got you to sit down at the keyboard and work on it.

I think you wrote it because it was a story that you wanted to tell. A story that only you could tell, because you were the one who cared enough about it to give it form. Without you, that story wouldn’t exist. That would be a loss for the world of story because it’s a good one, no matter what its eventual fate.

We build the world of story. We do it one word at a time. We do it because no one else can. That’s what it’s about.