Hi guys, I’ve been writing! I swear! You, too? Lordy, I hope so. A word here, a word there. Pretty soon we’ve molded them into something usable. But what if we’re not ready to publish them? What if we don’t want to publish them? Are they still art? Is our only worth in what we publish?
You know I’m going to say ‘no’. I know you know because you’ve seen me in action. I don’t know how many times I have to try to buckle down to some hint of a schedule before I finally get it that it’s not going to happen.
I love to write and I love it best when there’s no pressure, no rules, no expectations. Or maybe on some days I love it best when the pressure’s on and I manage to get it right. Yay! All that work and I’m finally finished. And it’s not bad! But whichever it is, it’s my choice. It’s my baby and I get to decide when I want to show the world what I’ve produced. And if I don’t publish, it’s okay. I’m still writing.
If you’ve been writing long enough, you know you’re never not writing. It’s pouring out of you, even when you’re not ready for it, and then you’re madly scrambling for a pen and paper or the Notes app on your phone before you forget that mighty gem formed out of nowhere, which, if you do say so yourself, is a thing of beauty. A masterpiece. My god! Thank you, thank you, O muse or deity or brain pucker or whatever it was that sent it to you nearly full-blown. A gift! And all because you’ve trained your whole life for this and when the words come you’re ready for them!
Uh huh. That’s what I said.
Crashing back to earth…
Nobody gets gifts like that unless they’re worthy, and you become worthy by learning, by observing, by understanding how it’s done. Those passages that seem to come out of nowhere? They come out of fertile ground, blooming because you’ve prepared and nurtured your garden with your knowledge, your creativity, your expertise. But if you don’t want to sell your goods, nothing in the world says you have to. You can keep your bounty all to yourself. Or share it with a chosen few.
So back to that idea of constant publishing. It’s not a competition. You’re not an assembly line. Your friends and fans won’t desert you because they haven’t heard from you in a while. If they’re any kind of friends or fans they’ll know when you get around to sharing something it’s because you care about them and you want it to be special.
But what if, say, you’ve started a newsletter? Do you think once you’ve built up a blog or a newsletter the people you’ve seduced into sticking around will expect you to keep them entertained? Often and by the clock?
The truth? Here it comes:
If you’re doing it for free you can pretty much do anything you want. As much as you love every follower, there are no strings attached. It’s a mutual friendship, not a commitment. And, as in any real friendship, your quirks—which may include disappearing for a while—must be forgiven. Because that’s what friends do.
But if you should set up a paid newsletter or are involved with any endeavor with a paywall, it’s a whole different ballgame. You’ve promised something in return for payment. Now it’s a business. Even if your writing is lyrical and lovely; otherworldly even, you must deliver as promised.
I can’t do that. I can’t write on demand. I won’t be keeping a schedule. Not anymore. I would love to make money at writing again, but the thought of writing as a business sends shivers all across me, including into those brain puckers that serve as my muse or my deity or whatever.
I would be writing for dollars and not for joy and it would show. My own expectations would hobble me. ‘Will they like this? Will they think it’s worth the money?’ Believe me, I’ve struggled with this. Substack encourages writers to build a paying audience. It’s the main attraction for newsletters now—be your own publisher, build your own business, get a steady paycheck. It’s why we’re supposed to be here.
But this is just me now. This is the phase I’m in. It’s not for everybody, and I encourage you to find your own zone. Wherever it might take you. Some writers get far more satisfaction from writing for pay. And why not? Doing what you love and getting paid for it! What a concept! It takes the kind of energy I no longer have, but if you do, your journey ahead will be exciting and unpredictable. And hopefully fulfilling.
What do you think? Do you have finished pieces you may never publish? Do you write everything to publish? Is writing a business for you? An art? A craft? We should talk about this.
A version of this is on my Medium page here.