The Luxury of Being Unpublished

September 10, 2010 § 18 Comments


I just finished the first draft of a short story. It’s over six thousands words as it stands and I’ll probably add (and cut) parts. It is my longest short story to date.

I’m fairly certain I won’t submit it to any market for publication. It makes me feel like a naked, horrible person and I was terrified to write it.

For the record, I am a horrible person.

Why did I write it? I had to. I wanted to. Will I keep working on it? Yes.

YA author Hannah Moskowitz wrote an interesting blog post that garnered a lot of discussion throughout the blogosphere about who YA authors write their books for. You can read it here. She posed a lot of interesting questions about the corner YA authors have put themselves in. She questioned who the authors wrote for: the YA writing community or teens? Like I said, they were all interesting questions and I considered them.

What I decided after mulling it all over was this: Who cares?

I don’t mean this to be disrespectful, but if we’re writing to please friends/or teens/whoever your readership may be, then we’re writing for the worst reasons.

I’m not published. I don’t have anyone waiting for me to edit my latest draft (except a few disgruntled beta readers). I’m not cornered into any one genre. I love almost all genres and enjoy reading any story that make me think.

I realize WILL THIS SELL? is the biggest question for publishers, but I am not a publisher. I’ve heard horror story after horror story about a manuscript that an agent falls in love with, fights for, and for whatever reason, it doesn’t sell. 

I won’t pretend to know what that’s like and imagine it is akin to being kicked in the face by a man in lederhosen.

I don’t want to diminish the author’s and agent’s hard work and if I’m ever in that situation, I’m sure it will break my heart.

But I’m not there. I’m tired of writing a humorous blog post or serious short story with the hopes it will be read by a friend I admire or look up to. I’m tired of writing for validation and approval. The past six months have been a tad wonky in my writing perspective and I’m through writing for other people.

After reading a chapter from a WIP of mine, a critique group member told me he wished I was twenty years older. He wanted me to finish working out whatever it is I’m working out and write more of “this.” I’d have to agree with him. I can’t wait to be twenty years older (well…let’s go with ten) and have a better sense of what kind of writer I am.

For the moment, I will simply enjoy figuring it out. I will explore genres and write whatever comes to heart. This was not a funny post. The next one will be funny. I promise.

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§ 18 Responses to The Luxury of Being Unpublished

  • Patrick Alan says:

    *Checks horrible person record. Finds Harley May. Puts asterisk and writes ‘pool thief’ *

    I wish you were 20 years older and then you could finally be the 18 year old you want to be.

  • Penelope says:

    Perhaps not funny, but AWESOME. I love this post.

  • Pixie says:

    I believe all serious writers write because they feel they must. Not because they want to be published (although it is certainly a nice benefit). but because it is a compulsion. I write because the characters in my head keep knocking to get out, and if I resist, they do nasty things to me. And sure, maybe the things I write about are not always profound, but they reflect ME. And that’s all I can ask for. Harley, keep writing. Never stop. Never lose sight of your goal, which is expressing yourself. I read you. I enjoy what you write, and I respect what you have to say. You’ve made me laugh, and you’ve made me think, and you’ve touched me. And isn’t that what we are ultimately aiming for?

  • Trisha Leigh says:

    Great post, H. I’ve been feeling the same way lately. It’s sometimes difficult to take such an intensely personal journey in full view of others BUT you have to remember – the writing community is largely supportive, knowledgeable, and un-judgy.

    Love you.

  • Daisy Harris says:

    I don’t know how old you are, but I’m very glad to be my age and writing. If I were any younger I would be too hung up on what others might think. I’m 37 (and a half) and the looming specter of forty is a great motivator. I figure, if I’m not going to start saying what I think now, when will I?

    Nice post. It’s freeing to write when you’re not trying to figure out what will sell. I’m not sure I’ll ever want a multi-book contract for exactly that reason.

    Best, D

  • stacey says:

    I was right were you are a year ago. Now I’m adored by dozens and dozens of readers because I quit doing what I was supposed to and started doing what I wanted. That and I went braless one day and I’ve been followed by creepy people ever since *hi Gary!*.

    Keep on keepin’ on, my sistah.

  • The only person you should ever write for is you! If other people like it, that’s icing on the cake. But your writing is for you and no one else. So keep at it and let your work go in the direction that feels right to YOU! Then it will truly be authentic and wonderful, and the rest of it all is far more likely to come (if you want it to).

  • Amen to not writing for other people or a specific “audience.”

  • yearzerowriters says:

    Well said!
    Penny Goring

  • fictionwitch says:

    I think this is fascinating. The waiting for validation thing is intellectually and emotionally crippling. It also very much diminishes us as storytellers. What people are looking for is authenticity in what they read and worrying about the market destroys that. You should indeed write what you want (and need) to write. I like your expression ‘write what comes to heart’. Good luck! I’ve just started a fiction blog/serial thing just because I can and want to, and it’s been very liberating. You can worry about the work and its quality in real terms (ie literary terms) not in terms of peoples’ reaction. It’s a good sort of worry – it’s constructive. It reminds me what writing is all about – why I had the impulse to do it in the first place, because I wanted simply to tell the stories that were whizzing about my head.

    Hope you have a great time with you writing! There must be pleasure in it for the writer, or what is the point?

  • I liked this post. I’ve often wondered why I write, and who I write for. I’d like to write about my family more because they’re all kind of eff’d up, but they’ve all made it clear that they’ll be hovering over me with a sharp knife in the wee hours of the AM if I do that. So I guess I write because it makes me feel good.

    Great post.

  • *taps foot* I’m WAITING.

  • Simon L. says:

    But…but…if you try to be funny in the next post, who are you being funny for?

    Write for yourself, dear Harley. You’re getting better with every story, and that’s exactly the point. Every paragraph you grind out is one that gets you a step closer to finding who you are as a writer.

    I don’t kid myself, though–I want people to read what I write and like it. But here’s the thing: when I’m in the trenches trying to find the right word or just that perfect sentence, I’m not thinking of the reader as I search for a way through any given scene, I’m thinking of the scene, of how I need it to go, of how I want it to be to satisfy my own ungodly-high standards. After I’m done writing it, then perhaps I’ll think of commercial value and acclaim and such, but not during.

    Write in the moment. That’s all we can do.

    Rock on, darlin’.

  • Harley May says:

    Thank you all so much for your precious comments. You are all dear readers.

  • Acolin says:

    I can’t honestly say what I write is for my eyes only. My journal entries are trite recitals of fact: “I helped her when she was drunk. She never called me again.” No emotion shown; I know how I feel.

    Yet I craft my short stories though as if each word reveals a deep truth: “I yearn for her like a child; I want to be picked up, held, hugged, kissed and feel her love soak me in richness.” I pour my molten heart out and hope that somebody, somewhere, some day, is scalded by my bravery.

  • Róisín says:

    I am now going to sit down and give some thought to how I might feel if I was kicked in the face by a man wearing lederhosen. It could be worse – A morris dancer, for example.

  • Mercedes says:

    Write your funny post. Or your serious post. Write whatever kind of post you want! This is your stomping ground, and you’re free to feel and say whatever you feel and say.

    And to emotional crippling: kick it in the face. IN THE FACE! Let’s put on some lederhosen.

  • Linda G. says:

    Excellent post, Harley. You have to write for yourself. Write what makes you happy. Because if you don’t, what’s the point? There are much easier ways to make a living, after all.

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