manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

Why Do I Write (and Publish)?

There is private writing (diaries, lists, things not to forget, unvarnished thoughts) and public writing (fiction, essays, treatises, histories, etc.). Private writing is not meant to be read by anyone else. Public writing is intended to be read by others, which is why it’s published. That’s what I’m talking about here.

Why do I write with intent to publish?

A few weeks ago, I heard a composer (Jim Hopson, who has written a concerto for alphorn) say that a musical score is just a set of instructions for performers. It’s the performance that matters, not the marks on paper. Then I wondered if the text of a novel can be thought of as a set of instructions for a reader’s brain to make a mind-movie. In which case it’s the reading that matters.

Except the author can’t assume the work will be read.

So why do I want to create such a thing? Especially as an obscure indie author.

Here is one answer, from author Chuck Litka, in a a comment on Mark Paxon’s June 20th WSW post “Is It Vanity?”:

“Putting aside why we write in the first place, for me publishing can be summed up in one word; completion. When I make a painting, it is complete in and of itself. It doesn’t have to be displayed, published, or sold to be a painting. A manuscript, however, remains a manuscript until it is published and made available to readers as a story or a book. If it was written to be read by strangers, it is an unfinished and unrealized project until it is published. I like finishing projects.”

Certainly, no one needs to write in order to fill a shortage of books or stories. There isn’t one; quite the contrary. But is there an eternal need for new stories? Or old ones freshly rendered. It could be argued either way, but for sure we have an eternal need to create story.

I write to satisfy a need to create my own version of a story. Whether anyone reads it is a secondary matter, although after I’ve expended the time and effort to bring the thing into existence and polish it, making it available for others to read is the logical completion of the process. Knowing that someone has read it is a validation of my efforts.

I’ve realized that as I write I am conscious of a ghostly shape in the corner, a potential reader, a receptive mind hovering on the edge of my consciousness. I don’t envision this entity in any kind of detail, but it’s always there.

Another musician I heard recently talking about what it’s like to return to live performances after the pandemic said the audience closes the feedback loop. Perhaps readers are to writers what an audience is to performers.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The question is: would I write even if I knew no one would ever read the written work? If that ghostly reader vanished?

Answer: I would write, but I might not publish. My writing would then be private. Lacking an incentive to make it readable, its quality would probably decline. It would become obscure and idiosyncratic.

Photo by Nadi Lindsay on Pexels.com

But we don’t know that no one will ever read our published writing, any more than we know that someone will. There is always hope, however threadbare it may be. For posthumous success, perhaps? And when an idea surges forth and insists on being rendered into writing, the ghostly reader shows up as well.

All right, fellow writers, what about you? Why do you write and publish? Do you envision a reader for your writing? Would you continue to write and publish even if your works were unread?

This is the second of two posts. The first one is: “Why Do I Read?”

65 comments

  1. I think all writer grew from that point when they were not read. It was once a reality already. Isn’t it?

    We first started writing only for ourselves, that is actually how I learnt that I like writing in the first place. And I am kind of certain with what this profession demands, no body becomes a writer by luck. We write by nature. So to assume no one will read say two years down the line, then this personally for me is a failure, not as a writer but as a person. Today world has really moved on, they have options to read, see, entertain themselves in as many ways as they know. Therefore as writers we really need to dig that connect first with ourselves and then with at least one or two people living around us. May be making a mentor out of an experienced but not so popular writer but something whom we can talk to. That mentor can even be found here.

    Or if even this is not possible I would then start writing only on one thing, anything and try to keep going deeper. But certainly away from the thought of being read or not. Rather be the best knower of what I can write about.

    Hence, thanks Audrey for making me write here.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Hi Audrey, I do not believe I would write adult novels if no one at all was going to read them. As it stands currently, I know there are a few people who like my work and will read them and that is enough for me. I don’t need a lot of potential readers, a handful is enough, but I do need those. I think! I would probably still write poetry and children’s stories as those are part of my soul, but I would probably spend more time doing artwork and less writing in this situation.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. An excellently composed, thoughtful and incisive post Audrey, with a very pertinent question.
    My initial folly was to think money could be made from writing. Twenty years ago; idea ditched and buried. Then onto the serious business of writing.
    To write; because. Because writing is in some folk’s natures and will not let them be until they are writing? Because once blood, time and some treasure (for materials) are spent, indeed the urge is there to let ‘The World’ know what the writer has created?
    I will remain wedded to the belief that once something is ‘out there’ the book, or short story belongs to the ages. To remain there for others to find. Your signature you were ‘here’ and this is what you accomplished.
    Acknowledgement and some modest sucess would be nice, of course, but knowing you stuck with the task and accomplished it.
    It does not get any better.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. A timely question, Audrey as I periodically review where I’m at with the Rivendale Review. I think I would continue to write, even knowing I had no actual readers because then I would imagine them, if not as actual readers now then readers at some point in the future. My private journal is encrypted, so very little chance anyone will ever read it, but still I imagine a reader when I write, even if that reader is perhaps only my own future self. My fiction and my blogging does seem to demand at least a potential actual human reader, so I would always put that up online as if in some way it keeps a contract with “the muse”, otherwise I can’t move on from it to the next piece of work. I think Chuck Litka makes an important point: publishing – even if it’s self-publishing, online – completes it.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I know what you mean, Michael, about the imaginary reader. It’s hard to write seriously without the idea that someone may read the words someday. Even if it’s only our future self. It’s something of a mystery, isn’t it.
      I have recently downloaded three of your books from Smashwords, and look forward to reading them someday.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. As usual Audrey, an excellent deep dive that is both personal and relatable. I write to make sense of things. I’ve been saying this for awhile but I’m increasingly aware of how true and relevant it is for me. I actually said to someone recently, in answer to a question, “I don’t know. I have to write about it first.”

    Now as to why I publish, I don’t have as solid an answer on that one. I love having a small community of writers and readers that comment on my posts (you included). It feeds my soul. So does getting a poem published, but that also feeds my ego- which I don’t know if I’m supposed to admit to. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Two great points here, JM! Yes, sometimes we need to write about something before we really know what we think about it. Writing focusses the brain.
      And it is soul-nourishing to be part of a community of writers who read your writing. (And the ego does need feeding too.)

      Like

  6. I make up rhymes in the car by myself so writing is an extension of what I do anyways. While I hope what I write gets read, it is not enough of a compulsion to get something published in any medium beyond my blog. I like the analogies and thought that went into this post.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I TRY to write without thinking if someone’s going to read it. (I often fail.) The I-don’t-care attitude opens my creativity, and the process is more fun. But I definitely think about the audience when editing.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I write, in part, to impose order on the chaos of this world. (And even then, the writing process cannot always be controlled!) I would continue to write the same way even if no one ever read it. I just wouldn’t publish it. Unfortunately, the only readers who sit in the corner as I’m writing are workshop naysayers and editors. I then get up and lock them in a closet.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Ha! Yes, Liz–we have to get those pontificators away from our desks as we create, and consult them outside when we’re in editing mode.
      I think I would continue to write something even if no one read it. What am I saying? I kept a journal for decades (’70s and ’80s) knowing it wouldn’t be read, except by me.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Quite true, Liz. When I started blogging, I actually wrote a few writing rule posts, until I realized I had no business telling other writers how to write. Since then, I’ve stuck to saying how I write. (At least I hope that’s the case; it’s way too easy to use “you” when discussing a process of some sort.)

          Liked by 3 people

    2. Yes! I write and draw to impose order too. I also do it to help myself stay in the present moment and enjoy something in my world. I would do this even if no one else saw it. But I enjoy the “conversation” aspect sharing and publishing gives me. And like Audrey and you say elsewhere I don’t think I’m an authority or qualified to tell anyone how-to do anything. I share in the “yum these cookies are tasty. Would you like one too?” sense of sharing. We do learn how to live from other people but the student has to be ready before the teacher can appear.

      Liked by 3 people

  9. So if I post on my WordPress account would that be considered a manuscript or being published? The lines seem a bit blurry. I am not at the stage where I feel comfortable putting anything out on say Amazon but I do like sharing my creations. Very gratifying. Thanks for speaking about this

    Liked by 3 people

  10. It is important to me that at least some people are reading my work. It’s like talking or telling a story verbally. What would be the point if there was no one to hear you. Writing is another way of communicating and it is a two-way street. When I write in my journal, which is private writing, I tend not to pay attention to spelling and grammar etc. because it is just for me. But then I think, what if people read these after I’m gone, will they think I was an awful writer! Then I try to be more careful. LOL

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s true, Darlene. Talking to oneself isn’t rewarding, which is why it’s discouraging when one’s works aren’t read, and so gratifying when they are, if only by a few.
      One thing about obscurity–at least one’s private journals aren’t likely to be read by scholars or the inquisitive public, as those of celebrities are!

      Liked by 3 people

  11. Having already said my piece on why I publish:) I will answer the other part of your question; I never consider the reader while I am writing. I write to please myself. It makes writing so much easier, since I know what I like. And I’m comfortable doing so because I know that there is an appreciative audience for anything anyone cares to write. The only question is how big that audience is. And unless you are serious about being commercially successful, you need not worry, too much, about the size of your audience. It will likely be small. Which is artistically liberating. Write your own thing. That said, I do hope some people like my work, I feel good when they do. But I think you should be willing to let the chips fall as they may.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That freedom is another good thing about being indie, Chuck. Authors with publisher contracts that specify a certain number of books by a certain date don’t have just potential readers hovering over them as they write, but a bean-counting publisher as well!
      And yes, once the works are “out there” in the public milieu, they are beyond our control and must stand or fall on their own merits.

      Like

  12. Art isn’t art until experienced by others? All art is performance art? Naw.

    Art is art as soon as the artist calls it so.

    A composer made music in her mind while she wrote it. A painter experienced the flow and expression while he painted it. A crafter/maker built a wondrous contraption for themselves — just to see it work.

    And a writer, like you say, told themselves a story, while they wrote it.

    The only reason to publish is to stroke one’s ego. The only reason to present in a gallery is for the accolades. A symphony, maybe that’s one thing that is more than the instructions. Like a computer program assembled from many independent parts, a orchestra’s rendition is the actual art. However, even if the composer was the only one in the audience — that would be enough to call it “art”.

    On the other hand…

    GPT-4 will be writing stories far exceeding the quality and capability of most writers. GPT-4 is an algorithm, massive and beyond complex, but a machine none-the-less. Will the work pouring from that engine be art? The “artist” won’t have enjoyed the process. Those publishing the work from that AI would only do so for money or self-adulation, “Lookie what we built. See what it can do.” Stories produced as coded patterns from a gargantuan pattern processor.

    All the Dall-E images I’ve been using as fodder for silly poetry, those aren’t art. They’re artifacts of machine processing.

    But, repurposing them with intent to tell a story, an artful story, does that transform them?

    As the artist I say it does.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I still think written works are created to be read by someone, so making them available is the logical conclusion of the process. But then… what about the cave art that was unseen for millennia until it was discovered? It was art, although unseen. So, I suppose, is unread writing that was created in order to be read. Maybe it’s the potential that counts.
      As for writing by AI, it could be argued that the AI was created by humans in order to produce something that looks like written art. I don’t know where the dividing line is. Then you get art created by elephants or chimpanzees…
      This topic could be debated forever. I’m glad to see everyone’s comments here!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I can identify with Chuck’s answer. At some point, the couple of novels I’ve been working on are about getting to the finish line. Sure, It will seem pointless if no one reads them, but this is more about proving something to myself that I can do it. I’m betting it’s a similar feeling with any creative endeavor. There is something about starting from scratch, like a painter with a blank canvas, and finishing a job while giving it our best effort that feels rewarding.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agreed, Pete! When I started writing my first novel, my main goal was to see if I could finish it and make a half-decent job of it. I tried to enter the traditional publishing stream, but without success. Fortunately, self-publishing became easy and relatively respectable at just about the point I gave up on submitting. And I certainly can’t deny that it’s been great to find a community of writers and readers on WordPress.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. What a fabulous question. πŸ˜€ … thinks thoughts … Would I write the kind of stories that I do now? No. It would be more of a diary/day planner sort of thing, and things I needed to remember.
    .. and I don’t know if the painting analogy holds water either. Just like I could admire my book with its nice shiny cover, so could the painter admire her/his painting, but both objects are less than they could be if not viewed/read by others.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Comparing paintings and books, I always say it takes only a minute to appreciate a painting (superficially, anyway), but hours to read a book. There are degrees of completion of creative projects, but a book does seem to demand readers at some point to become real.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m not sure about a musical score only being a set of instructions for a performer. A recipe for for sponge cake is most definitely a set of instructions for a cook, i.e. a performer, but music and fiction are both forms of communication, from the composer to the audience. The performer is simply the tool used to bridge that communication.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hmm, that’s true, I suppose. That composer’s opinion was kind of a new idea to me, but then I’m not a musician. And you might say, that audiobooks aside, the reader of a book is both the performer and the audience. Reading the text creates an experience I call a “mind-movie.” But I wonder if different people’s brains process text exactly the same way, and whether anyone has tested that.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes! That’s exactly how I think of reading too. It’s interactive in a way that no movie can be. I think that’s also why it’s such a powerful thing. Sadly I think a lot of people never discover the joyous part of reading. :/

        Liked by 2 people

  16. I write because it fulfills my creative urge. Because I’ve published ten books, I don’t feel as strong a need to keep publishing at the pace I once did. But I am publishing another book this Sept. because I’m still curious, after all these years, about where my writing can take me on a professional level.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Well put, Audrey. I liked Chuck’s quote and how he aligns publishing with completion. I don’t write for a “specific” audience, but I write (and work hard at it) because I hope to be read and want to produce my very best. If I knew that no one would read my work, would I continue to write? Probably, but with less all-consuming, single-minded intensity. I’d expand my creative interests and spend more time enjoying other pursuits. I have a feeling that, as I age, I will head in that direction anyway. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

Comments are closed.