Forget Publishing. Just Write!
By Dell Smith
I recently looked at some of my old manuscript printouts. I still keep them tucked away in an old cardboard R-Kive banker’s box, hoping I have some worthy stories I can dust off and polish into gems. Well, there may be a few good ideas kicking around that banker’s box, but I can’t get past the horrid writing. I forgot what a bad writer I was. It’s all there in this tomb of fictive sorrows, embalmed in yellowed paper.
The contents of that box represents the years of frustrating, difficult, and at times hopeless work it took to be the writer I am today. I don’t mean to imply that I’m a great writer now. But I am a better writer now than when I wrote those drafts. And I plan on being a better writer in the future.
I got better because I wanted to learn to become a better writer and because I loved writing. I kept at it even when I knew I wasn’t good enough to get published. Producing good writing is difficult enough without the specter of publication dogging you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t want to be published. I’m saying that writing something just for publication is courting mediocrity. Publishing should be a happy byproduct of writing well.
Typically, novice writers have multiple and concurrent problems to overcome without adding the pressure of publishing to the mix. When I first started, it was difficult to find writing advice aimed at me. I hadn’t gone to grad school for an MFA. I hadn’t even taken a writing class in college beyond basic composition and a screenwriting class.
When I started writing seriously, I felt like I was starting not at the bottom, but below that: underground. I didn’t even know where or how to begin. But that didn’t stop me from trying. After I started producing pages, after I felt the thrill of getting lost in my characters and their stories, I knew I could never stop writing.
If you’re a novice, put your publishing blinders on and get busy writing. If you’re not sure even how to begin writing, read every book you can get your hands on. Read your favorite books. Read the kinds of books you want to write. If you’re afraid that you don’t have the proper background or education to be a writer, you have nothing to be afraid of.
Think of it like this: while you were busy loving and working and fighting and traveling and having babies, you were cataloging all the things you will eventually write about. No matter where you are in your writing life, no matter your background, if you keep at it your writing will get better.
It helps to read other writers who are at the same stage in the process. Join a writing group. If you feel intimidated by other writers’ talent, their productivity, or their education, then you’re in the right place. Working with good writers ups your game, forces you to work harder. Having writing group deadlines gives you a goal to help you produce the pages.
It’s foolish to think any writer today does not dream of the eventual publication of their work. Getting your work published is the ultimate confidence boost. Still, consider this radical idea: Don’t think about publishing while you are writing. The writing and your love of the process and your empathy for your characters should come first.
What if you never published? Would you still be happy as a writer? Would you still write? Or would you give up because you thought you weren’t good enough and felt writing was too much trouble? Get good enough by your own standards first. Then worry about everybody else’s.
Dell Smith is a writer of fictions. He grew up on Cape Cod and left town to study filmmaking. He writes stories and novels. Therefore, he works as a technical writer at a software company northwest of Boston. He has also worked as a videotape editor, cook, music video lackey, TelePrompTer operator, accounts receivable clerk, assistant film editor, caterer, roadie, flea market vendor, videotape duplicator, and wedding videographer. He has lived in Worcester, Bridgeport, Van Nuys, Billerica, Ithaca, Florham Park, Fairfield, and Simi Valley. He brings his life experience to bear in his fiction. His writing has appeared in J Journal, Lynx Eye Quarterly, Grub Street’s 10th anniversary anthology Hacks, and will be featured in issue 56 of Fiction Magazine. He maintains a blog, Unreliable Narrator at dellsmith.com, featuring essays on writing, book reviews, and author interviews.