Blog header: Twenty Years a Writer

Twenty Years a Writer, Part 4: Reasons to Write and Reasons to Publish

Now that so many writers are also publishers (of their own writings), publishing seems like a natural outcome of writing. First you write, and then (after a few other operations) you publish. A no-brainer, right?

No. Writing and publishing are two completely different actions. While many pieces of text are written in order to be published as soon as possible, many others are not.

Reasons to Write

  • Inspiration: you can’t not write
  • Declaration: a statement you must make
  • Exploration: you want to see if you can write
  • Reminiscing: capturing the past for yourself or others
  • Figuring Out: solving a problem by putting it into words
  • Revelation: truth-telling
  • Explanation: recording knowledge

Reasons to Publish

  • To share ideas
  • To amuse and delight
  • To reveal something to the world
  • To test your ideas
  • To test your writing
  • To make money
  • To become famous

We write for personal reasons. We publish to share our writings with the world.

It stands to reason that we write more than we publish. We scribble down notes and ideas. We write multiple drafts and versions, we have false starts that go nowhere, we abandon pieces half-written when inspiration runs out. We write for practice, or to solidify ideas. We write out of frustration or rage or grief. Many of these writings are never intended to be published.

Writing notebook

Writing does not equal publishing, no matter how easy it is to publish.

Freedom of thought is fundamental. No thought is forbidden, but not all thoughts need to be put into words and published. Any thought may be written, but some are best followed by shredding, burning, or deletion, rather than publication.

Then there are all those “rules” we keep reading about — never do this, always do that, don’t use these words, etc. Rules don’t matter if you’re writing with no intention to publish. Worrying about rules can hobble the mind and fetter the fingers. Beginning writers may think they must master the rules before they write anything, which likely means they won’t write at all. Forming thoughts into words can be freeing, healing, or motivating. No one should stifle the impulse to write because they haven’t learned the rules.

But before a piece of writing is published, it must be readable. That’s the time for attention to rules. If the words are to be out in the world and read by others, the writer must ensure they are effective vehicles for the thoughts they embody.

open book against blue sky with white clouds

Fellow writers, do you always know when you write something that you will publish it? Do you ever write things you will never publish? Or regretted publishing something?

Next time: Editing process.

63 comments

  1. Sure! On the unpublished side, there are projects that simply don’t pan out, for one thing. Or that you simply lose interest in completing.
    Regrets? Not that I can think of off the top of my head, though there are some that I’d sent out and now, in hindsight, am grateful they were rejected.
    The private stuff stays in the journals, and I can assure you there’s plenty of muck and debris there.
    You do have me reflecting on the stage in-between writing and publishing — revision! It’s hard work I doubt I’d pursue unlike publishing were the goal, but it often takes the inspiration far beyond what I’d consider the recording, remembering, or connecting-the-dots part of the first stage.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading and offering your thoughts, Jnana. We writers are always writing something, aren’t we. I like your term “muck and debris” for private writings. Sometimes they lead to something worth furthering and even publishing. My analogy for that is a compost heap, which is also muck and debris that enriches the garden.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve written plenty of things I don’t publish. Sometimes it’s because after finishing I realize what I’ve written is just not very good. There are also some things I’ve written that are just too dark and depressing to publish, but I felt the need to write them anyway, just to get it out of my system. As you said, writing can be a great way of coping with “frustration or rage or grief.” The result may not be publishable but it’s still worth doing.

    Liked by 2 people

              1. Ha! I have to admit I haven’t read as much of my country’s literature as I probably should. I did some quick searching today and found this quotation from Douglas Coupland (whom I haven’t read, alas): “CanLit is when the Canadian government pays you money to write about life in small towns and/or the immigration experience.” There’s some truth to that! As for specific works, two published in the late 1990s are Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (I thought it was interesting) and Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald (haven’t read it). An earlier work I enjoyed despite its harshness is The Diviners by Margaret Laurence. Canadian literature, especially from the mid-20th century, is characterized by the bleakness of the winter landscape and a lot of struggle. More recent works show the experiences of indigenous people and immigrants (more bleakness and struggle). And yet Canada is a great place to live. Lots of other reading choices may be found by looking up Canada Reads or the Giller Prize.

                Liked by 1 person

              2. Thank you for the information, Audrey. I’ve saved it in my Evernote reading list. My grandmother was from Nova Scotia, and I’ve been wanting to get in touch with those literary roots. She trained as a librarian in Toronto and was a passionate reader throughout her life.

                Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting, Berthold. One thing about writing out the dark and depressing stuff — or anything, really — is you can maybe use it in some other piece of writing later. Fixing thoughts in words keeps them from being lost to the winds of time. (Okay, let’s not get too lyrical here.)

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I generally write with the intent of publishing. Short stories go on my blog. Longer things get published as e-books and, if long enough, paperbacks. I rarely write something that doesn’t either end up on my blog or on Amazon.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I actually used to write a journal in my younger years but (ironically) stopped about the time I started Serious Writing. Now I have a notebook where I dump thoughts that might be worth keeping, but that’s about it. Otherwise, most of my writing is intended to be published, either as books or on my blog.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Excellent article, Audrey!
    I write many things not intended for publication: journal entries, sketches for a story, and also sometimes stories or poems that just didn’t make it. My first three novels went into the round file, too. No, I’ve never regretted publishing anything, although when I reread some of what I’ve published, I itch to revise a little more! And, now that I’m “retired” I don’t publish anything except articles on my blog. I still print enough copies of a novel to give to friends, but that’s it. But, writing is what I do, and what I love to do, so I’ll never quit until forced to.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I find that a painting is done when I’m done painting it. It needs nothing more. On the other hand, I feel that a manuscript, is not complete until it is published and shared. So publishing is, for me, the end point of writing. Not that I get to the end of every story I start. But if I do manage to make it to the end, I’ll publish it and take my chances that it good enough.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, I do the same, Chuck. Except for actual errors (typos and unintended line breaks, etc.), I don’t go back and change things in works I’ve published. Even though I may cringe at some things when I read them a few years later.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have gone back and fixed typos and a few passages in my earliest works — they really needed it, and may still do. However, I now have four or five beta readers in addition to my wife who find typos for me (I’m blind to them), and I’m always amazed at how little overlap in typos found there are between readers.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hmm, perchance have you hacked into the feedback I’ve been giving my online writing process students about the difference between writer-based prose and reader-based prose? 😉

    I would say that I know when I finish something that I won’t submit it for publication–because it’s cheesy, lame, unbelievable, or otherwise cringe-worthy. I’m just starting to look at self-publishing, which I know I will need to look at with an editor’s and a reader’s eye.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It makes sense not to rush into publishing Look how long traditional publishers take. And there’s a lot to learn and think about before publishing ones’ own work. (Says I who rushed into it back in 2010; I hope I’ve learned a few things since then.)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent post, Audrey! I think back to most of my high school English classes that seemed to be all about following rules. Creative writing seems to break all those rules. That is quite freeing. On the other hand, as you so eloquently put, the writing needs to be cognizant and understandable. I like the analogy of “the rules of the road.” We need to stop at red lights and stop signs, or there would be chaos. Yet, plenty of other rules of the road are bent or only followed parttime.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Pete. I think part of learning to write is figuring out which rules and guidelines apply to your writing. It complements finding your unique voice as a writer at the same time as you connect with readers. It’s a real balancing act. No wonder writers often doubt themselves.

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  8. Wonderful article Audrey. I love to write and don’t mind editing, but my enthusiasm dies at that point. I’m too lazy to even both submitting to most places. Fortunately blogging is an easy way to satisfy both the urge to write and to be ‘published’.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Hi Audrey, what a brilliant post! You’re quite right to separate out the business of writing from publishing and it’s great to see it so clearly defined. I think the online revolution has blurred the boundaries a little and tempted writers into putting things out that perhaps would be better kept in the “personal” file. Just because we can publish anything now doesn’t mean we should.

    I’m most driven to “self” publish by the thought of testing and sharing ideas, but accept my readers may not always agree with the run of my thoughts, so I try to reward their patience by being as entertaining as I can, say with my fiction writing. A lot of fiction I encounter online seems hastily cobbled together and doesn’t really respect the reader – though readers may say that about me of course.

    Things like my personal diary, my dream diary, and various active imagination exercises I wouldn’t show anyone. They’re a psychological “know-thyself” kind of thing and too immediately personal to share. I sometimes take a distilled essence from this raw material, de-personalise it and blog it, while the super-distilled essences go into the fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Michael. I like your description of some writings as a way of knowing ourselves. That certainly helps us to improve our published works. And being able to publish online is a great way to see how people receive our writing without the efforts and risks that were necessary in the past.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I wanted to accomplish something of personal import. Writing and publishing a couple of novels was more for my self actualization than anything. Even if they were mere castles at surf’s edge, having them on the shelf sustains my self confidence. “Yup, I wrote those.” (I say mumbling beneath my shawl.)

    Liked by 1 person

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