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?


  1. Oh yes, I've felt that way. I would hang my head in embarrassment and I was certain some of my friends didn't take my writing seriously.

    You've made some great points here - something every beginning and non-published writer needs to know.

    1. Hi Joan,

      To be honest, there are still times when I don't think my friends really know what to make of my writing! LOL It's just difficult for non-writers to comprehend the writing/author life, isn't it? :-)

  2. Jody, all good reasons. Those who fall into category #1 are what Lawrence Block calls "Sunday writers," and I was one for a while until I got serious about it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I totally love my phase as a "Sunday writer." It was blissful! I really loved not having any pressure to try to shape my stories or worry about my internal editor coming out. I needed that time of "freedom" to really hone my story-telling. I think if I'd had criticism at that stage, it would have zapped the joy out of writing and maybe I wouldn't have continued. Who knows! All that to say, I think there's value for beginners to write without pressure (at least until they're ready to move to the next level).

  3. Yes to them all, especially #3. Even when you're not new, it's tough. I couldn't imagine being published without having friends who understand the industry. Also, given the deadline demands placed on us by our publishers, it's impossible to keep to them if your still figuring out craft. Those early manuscripts tend to take longer to write than you'll have time for later on. It used to take me a year to write a book. Now with my deadlines, I need to hand in a new one every four months (I have 2 separate publishers right now).

    1. You're still figuring out craft NOT your still figuring out craft. *goes back to bed* :)

    2. LOL, Stina! Totally am with you on needing to go back to bed! And I can also totally relate with the pressures and demands upon an author. Since I'm multi-publishing (books with several publishers), the demands have really heightened. I could never have done this as a beginner. But as you said, the longer we write, the stronger our writing muscles grow. After years of "working out," I can step up to the challenge much better.

  4. Jody, I can't tell you how much this post applies to me right now. Since going "public" that I write books (I've said some things on my Facebook account so now my friends and family know) I have gotten asked a lot of times when I will be pursuing publication.

    I'm certainly not ready for that right now, and honestly, I'm not sure I ever want to pursue publication. As you said, I do it for the joy of storytelling. Right now its a hobby and I'm perfectly content with that. I'm afraid if I pursue publishing and am successful, writing will become a job and will lose its joy. I don't want that.

    So for now, I'm more than happy to remain a hobby writer :)

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

    1. Aw, Shelly, I'm sorry you're getting that pressure! It's bound to happen when we come out of the closet. But I think you have the right attitude about enjoying the process right now. You can always re-evaluate again down the road how you feel. But for now, it's great that you're happy and in love with writing. That's the place to be! :-)

  5. There is some really good information in here, great post! Makes me think about the way I handle it as an unpublished author. It can be hard to let people know that you write after work. And people always do ask "What have you published?"

  6. Jody, your last two posts have really spoken to me right now. This past year has been very stressful because of publishing expectations that didn't come true. I'm one of those people who like to follow steps - First you write, then you find an agent, then you get published, etc. What I didn't realize was how long it took for each step to happen, and I questioned whether God really wanted me to get published or that was someone else's expectation. However, I've certainly learned a lot since I began this trek that I didn't have a clue about when I started nine years ago. And I didn't start out with the goal of publishing a book! Thanks for giving us a way to de-stress, especially when your friends ask when your book is coming out.

  7. Great post! Thank you. You nailed it both in how it feels when we are attempting to see ourselves as authors and negotiate what that looks like in public. I love your suggested answers. So helpful.

  8. Yes! I waited over a year to tell extended family I was writing a book. I regret it. People assume that means I should be published "immediately." They have no idea how long it takes.

    I'm looking into self-publishing, but I really want to take my time and learn my craft. I do NOT want my first (or second or third...) books "out there." I read my first one again and I cringe!


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