Just say no! (to publication)

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I’ve written fiction all my life, but only in the last ten years or so have I done it “seriously,” with the goal of publication in mind.

Except I realized a year ago that I had badly misunderstood what “seriously” means. Publication should not be my goal. The writing itself should be. My abrupt change of perspective occurred when I read a quote posted on facebook by a filmmaker friend of mine (the same one who posted something I hated about addiction): “What the audience thinks never matters.”

It was a eureka moment. I was so exhausted and disenchanted by the publishing world. I had wasted years feeling bad about myself because of the submission process. It takes time to research venues, emotional energy to submit, and rejection is nearly guaranteed. And there is no progress. I got back a positive rejection on one story – “we liked this, please submit more stuff” – only to get an impersonal form rejection from the same editor on the next. A fellow writer whose blog I regularly read around that time had a list of ten publications and was still struggling as much as I was.

When I read my friend’s facebook post it was as if I could see clearly for the first time. It did not matter what editors thought about my work, whether they liked it a little or a lot or thought it was crap. And if it didn’t matter, why should I bother to submit? If I wanted my work to reach an audience, I could put it online myself.

I had somehow thought that having my work published meant something significant. In truth, it was a false idol. What matters is that I am a writer and that I write. And you know what? I really like what I write. I do. I think it’s good. Not in the sense of being good enough or better than that other person’s stuff. I just plain think it’s good work because I worked hard on it and it’s meaningful to me.

Sour grapes, one might say. I failed at getting published and so naturally I would reject the publishing world. Fair enough. I will never deny that being rejected hurt and I have feelings of anger. This is normal and human, and not embarrassing or shameful. I recognize and acknowledge those feelings. I also recognize and acknowledge that I’m proud of my decision to not seek publication (for the time being, at least), and focus on writing solely for myself. My writing has improved, my confidence and happiness have increased, and for the first time I feel I’m creating work that is true to who I am.

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