As a writer, I ask myself this a lot. Writing doesn’t pay off. You keep doing it, and no one really cares. You get better, and the only celebrant is you.
Our society only values something if there is a progressive outward sign of success. Society would deem me successful if I had publications. This is the question people ask the most when I say I’m a writer. Am I published? No? The conversation generally goes dead after that response. Because they think it means I am not successful, or not a “real” writer yet, or maybe they think it means I must not be very good.
But I’ve stopped seeking publication because being published has nothing to do with my worth as a writer. If I did get something published, what would that mean? Nothing much beyond the fact that someone else likes what I write and my story would reach a small audience. (Not many people read literary journals.)
I don’t want to base my feeling of self-worth on someone else’s judgement. And if I want to reach readers, I can just put my stuff up online. Which I’ve done.
In this area of life and others, I try to structure a personal payoff that is independent of what the wider world might give me.
But you know what? It’s human nature to seek approval and validation from outside the self. And even though I know it’s ultimately unhealthy to do so, I still feel that something is missing from my life.
I have a growing suspicion, though, that this is just how it is. In most things we endeavor and struggle and there will never be any kind of acclaim. This should be something that we understand and accept from a young age, but our culture tells us that there should be more. Fame, fortune, admiration. Success. Accumulation. How else are we to tell if we’ve “made it”?
And so in my secret heart I keep waiting for the payoff.
I hate that I do this.