To Be or Not To Be

Howdy folks,

This is yet another in the “out of the series” series of mid-term posts that might answer a few questions for some of you.

Recently a friend and fellow writer asked me for a recommendation of someone who could read his work. He explained that he wasn’t looking for an edit or even a proofread, but simply wanted someone to read it with an eye toward whether he should continue writing or shuck the whole thing as a horrible experiment gone wrong.

Okay, he wasn’t nearly that melodramatic, but you get the point. And you’ve probably asked a similar question at one time or another yourself. I know I did, many many many years ago.

We all want validation of our work, but you know that old saw about writing being a solitary endeavor? It’s true. And it should be true. If you’re submitting your work for critique to people who are no more experienced than you are, and if you’re listening to their recommendations, you’re writing by committee. And nothing—absolutely nothing EVER—good has come out of writing by committee. Just to get that out of the way early.

We used to get validation from a publisher. Many of you are still chasing traditional publishers and/or agents despite the fact that traditional publishing is currently issuing the worst contracts in the history of publishing. (Note: Don’t take my word for it. Ask your chosen agent or traditional publisher how soon, per their contract, all rights revert to the author after initial print publication of the book. The answer is simple: Never (or long enough that it might as well be never).

But even back in the bad old days when traditional publishers treated writers somewhat fairly and ruled the roost, what one publisher absolutely hated, another publisher loved. So your “validation” didn’t come necessarily as a result of your skill as a writer. It came as a result of having submitted your work to the right publisher.

Today is no different. Today we get our validation straight from the reader. If you write stuff that’s good, readers will like it, buy it, and tell other readers. If you don’t, well, leave it out there. Eventually the readers who like what you’ve written will surface for air.

Yeah, I know. That isn’t really what my friend was asking. He was asking whether I or someone I would recommend could read his work and then tell him, honestly and point blank, whether to keep his day job. Okay, first, if you have a day job and you’re writing around it, keep your day job. You might sell ten thousand copies of your novel this month and only six copies next month. Yes, it works like that.

Okay, this is “yeah I know,” part deaux. What my friend REALLY wanted to know is whether his work was worthwhile. And you know what? Nobody else can tell you that.

This isn’t a copout. Seriously, only YOU can prevent forest fires and only YOU can decide whether you should continue writing (and learning) and writing some more. Only you. Nobody else.

The Truth is, the only lasting worth that can ever be attached to writing (both the act and the product) is up to the writer himself or herself.

Basically, ask yourself this:

  1. Do you enjoy writing?
  2. Is writing a joyful thing for you?
  3. Is the pure unadulterated (or maybe adulterated, I don’t know) joy you derive from writing and stretching the truth and telling stories worth the time it takes to continue?

Only YOU know the answer. Just like you know that’s actually only one question. If the answer is yes, then write.

If the answer is no or nope or huhuh or nuhuh or hell no or areyoukiddin’me or anything else like that, then ohdeargawd by all means please find something to do that you actually enjoy doing and, you know, go do that.

There’s one other thing you can ask yourself, and for me personally this is a biggie. Is your goal to write, or is your goal to be published and make money?

If your goal is to write, then it’s all right to have those other goals too (publication and money). But if you think you’re gonna slap together a few short stories or even a few novels and find yourself rolling in it… well, you might be rolling in it, but it won’t be money.

I write what I want to read. As I write my short stories and novels, I’m constantly amazed at some of the things the characters say and some of the places they take me and some of the situations they get into. Not to mention how they get out of those situations. It’s an incredible experience, and I am awed by it.

Fortunately, I also find it a massive amount of fun. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a writer. I’d do something I enjoy.

‘Til next time,


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