Yesterday was a productive but frustrating writing day. I must get out of the habit of looking to other writers for examples. Yes, it’s helpful to look to other writers as a guide but-when you’re thinking about submitting to a publication-it can be creative suicide. Suddenly, we’re writing for a market, tailoring our ideas and tastes to notions of what is popular, of what sells.
I love that the publication I’m submitting to is a fact-based trivia website with high journalistic standards for content and I appreciate that their philosophy is about violating expectations, about telling people things they don’t already know, but I don’t want to produce some shit fluff piece for the sake of being shocking and obscure.
“Write what you know.”
Usually a source of comfort, the old adage had me scared shitless: what did I know? what was I even capable of writing about?
Rather than recognize my impulse to be negative and take appropriate action, I indulged my insecurity- the worst thing a young writer can do. I started reading every article and comparing my ideas with theirs and, worse, I started reading the onslaught of criticism that followed each article in the comments:
“This seems horribly self-indulgent.” (there goes my idea about creativity)
“Really, you’re broke Morris? How obnoxious to claim you’re a penniless writer when you’ve published over 40 articles on List Verse.”
Reader response ranged from light-hearted teasing to vicious personal attacks.
The whole experience really had me questioning my ability to work as a writer: How do professional writers bear it? How do they cope with spending hours and hours researching and composing a piece for a meager $10 only to be met with mean, unproductive feedback from pimple-faced teenagers? How- amidst it all- do they remain positive and confident in themselves?
I suppose the reward is simply having written, of having learned something new. That’s why you must write for yourself and not some preconceived notion of a market; if a piece is rejected, or slammed by readers, at least you will have learned about something you were interested in.
As writers, we must not forget the primacy of “I” to writing. As a writer who spends years conceptualizing and drafting a piece, the thought that the novel/book/play could be published and fall on deaf ears is devastating, enough to convince even the most capable of writers to pursue other careers.
Only when we consider writing professionally do we become more attune to the idea of productivity and markets: will this sell? will it appeal to the masses? or will it be a total waste of years?
We must combat the urge to approach our writing from such a capitalistic mindset. Good prose sings because good prose begins with a writer who’s passionate, a writer who believes in what they have to say; take that away-write whatever useless garbage you know will sell-and you compromise not only your prose but your integrity as a writer.
In the end, art must be for art’s sake. Writing is too discouraging and low-paying a profession to not enjoy it: write about what you know and, more importantly, what you love. That way, if all you get in your inbox are rejection slips, at least you’ll know you’ve had some fun.