Why It's Perfectly Okay Not To Pursue Publication

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Before I was published, I hardly ever told anyone that I was a writer. I was a coward. I know. But almost every time I told someone I was a writer, they'd ask, "Oh. What have you published?"

Most of the people weren't trying to put me on the spot. And they weren't trying to be rude. The fact is, most people outside the writing industry really don't know all that goes into becoming a published author.

Usually when I'd answer the well-meaning people, I'd hang my head and mumble something like, "I'm not published yet." Or at times when I wanted to make myself look better than I felt, I'd say, "I'm sending things out and it takes a long time to hear back."

Because I hated having to answer those kinds of questions, most of the time I was content to remain a "closet writer." 

In hindsight, I realize that it's perfectly okay not to pursue publication. In fact, sometimes it's even better for beginning writers to take the pressure of publication off themselves. Then instead of feeling embarrassed at the perceived lack of accomplishments, writers can respond to questions with one of these answers:

1. "I'm not writing for publication right now. I'm content to remain a hobby writer for the time being."

Yes, it is perfectly okay to write as a hobby. I would classify a hobby as something like cooking, gardening, or any number of activities that a person engages in for the pleasure of the activity.

No one asks someone with a hobby of cooking when she's planning to start her own cooking show. No one asks a gardener when she's opening up a road stand business. Most people accept that hobbies are there for us to enjoy without having to make it something bigger and greater than it is.

Writing is the same way. We should start writing because it brings us immense satisfaction. Plain and simple. When I began writing, it was because I loved inventing my own stories. I had no thought of publication. The hobby itself brought me enough joy without any other rewards.

2. "I'm not writing for publication right now. I'm taking the time to learn how to become a good writer first before going public with anything."

What's the hurry to put our work out there? If young writers are expecting publication to be like the Gold Rush (which is a little bit what the past couple of years have resembled with the rush to self-publish), then they're in for a huge disappointment. Yes, some writers may find a few nuggets of success here and there. But very few beginners hit the mother lode on the first book or two.

Why not take the pressure off ourselves? Instead, when our friends and family ask us about publication, we can remind them that most other professions require many years of training before being ready for a professional career. Most other jobs require a paid degree and sometimes internships (working without pay for a while).

We need to feel comfortable telling those pressuring us that we're taking our time, learning the craft, practicing what we're learning, and that someday, finally, we'll be ready for publication. And when that happens, we'll let them know.

3. "I'm not writing for publication right now. Since being an author is demanding, I'm waiting until I've learned more about the industry and what it really takes to be successful."

Even if we've honed our writing techniques and story-telling abilities, it's still okay to wait. With the abundance of authors putting out backlists, novellas, free books, etc. it's still a very tough market for new authors to gain traction.

I speak from personal experience when I say that it takes an incredible amount of work to be an author nowadays. I wrote for a while before finally pursuing publication, and honestly I'm glad that I gave myself that time to learn about the industry, make writing friends, and develop some savvy before I jumped into publication.

My Summary: The bottom line is that the joy and love of writing and storytelling should fulfill us, even without publication. If it's not, then perhaps we've lost our true love and need to take some time to gain it back.

What about YOU? Have you felt pressure to publish before you're ready? Why do you think that pressure is so strong nowadays?

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