Writing for Therapy versus Writing for Publication—Part 2
Copyright 2000; 2012 by Patricia Anderson
Every hard-working professional writer was once a beginner having fun. The early career of the detective novelist Agatha Christie exemplifies the progress from amateur to professional author.
But if you've become hooked on the recreational or therapeutic aspects of writing, then you may be caught in a self-defeating cycle of writing more and getting published less—or not at all. And in the end you'll experience frustration not fun.
The "Only Writes"
Among the indicators of confusion between wanting to have fun and wanting to be published is an uncompromising approach to writing—a pattern of only writing under certain self-satisfying conditions of mood or circumstance. The "only writes" in the following list are warning signals that you've veered from the goal of publication and become mired in the therapeutic side of writing:
- You only write when you feel creative or in the mood.
- You only write when you need to alleviate some other mood—anger or depression, for example.
- You only write first drafts.
- You only write when you have to read for your writers' group.
- You only write what has been assigned as a writing-class exercise.
- You only write spontaneously—planning and outlines stifle your Muse.
- You only write in longhand, because it's more intimate than using a computer.
- You only write according to your own, not market needs.
- You only write like Frank Sinatra—your way, without regard to conventions of structure, length, style, or genre.
If two or more of the "only writes" are habitual with you, then you're stuck on the byway of unpublished—and unpublishable—writing. And if you're no longer enjoying it as you once did, then it's time to get moving again.
On the Road Again
The tips below will help take you to the subsequent stages of writing for publication. Odds are, they'll sound all too familiar. That's because they're like roadmaps—they don't change much, but they get you where you want to go:
- Pick a regular time to write and stick to it.
- Set goals: you will rewrite your depression piece into an article for a psychology magazine; you will research contests until you have found the right one for your short story . . .
- Make deadlines: you will submit the psychology article no more than two months from now; you will finish that novel by the end of the year . . .
- Educate yourself: read published works in your genre, book reviews, and trade news; learn as much as you can about the book trade and its commercial standards--this is professional development, not chasing the market.
- Take pleasure not only in writing but in editing, rewriting, and proofreading.
- If self-editing is not for you, then hire a professional editor to bring your manuscript up to trade standards.
If you find these tips boring or distasteful, then don't follow them. Writing strictly to have fun or to feel better has value all its own. Just be aware that while it may be the beginning of writing for publication, it is not the equivalent.
For true satisfaction, every writer in the end must make a fundamental choice between two distinct directions. Either you are writing exclusively for yourself—or writing for a market. As Agatha Christie observed:
If you like to write for yourself only . . . you can . . . write any way you wish; but then you will probably have to be content with the pleasure alone of having written. It's no good starting out by thinking one is a heaven-born genius—some people are, but very few. No, one is a tradesman--a tradesman in a good honest trade. You must learn the technical skills, and then, within that trade, you can apply your own creative ideas.
This, as every professional writer knows, is the difference between writing for therapy and writing for publication.Return to Part 1