Until very recently, it never crossed my mind that the purpose of writing was not necessarily to be published. Although every book on writing I had ever read stated that you must enjoy the process, they all (naturally) continued on to offer advice on getting published, so I guess I developed the assumption that the two processes go hand-in-hand.
For me, getting published was not about making money… or at least, not as much about that as it was about other things.
Writing to be read
When I was in year 9, I wrote a sci-fi novella for a high school writing competition, and got my English teacher to read it over. His enthusiasm for my writing was so intoxicating that it didn’t matter that my entry got nowhere in the competition.
Another example: When I was in college, I took a semester of design, in which we were given a free-form project. I’m not sure where the inspiration came from, but I decided it would be fun to design a cover for my book, and get it printed off.
Holding that book in my hand at the end of the project was an awesome thrill, and it didn’t even matter that I nearly failed the assignment because I did none of the other required work. Since then, almost every new draft of The Lesser Evil (then known as The Padakan Plot) has been printed and bound, often with a different cover design.
But even getting a hardcopy of my book wasn’t the drawcard for me. I offered copies to the people around me, gratis, for their appraisal. It was often a bit disheartening when the books went straight onto people’s shelves and were never heard from again, but I understand: I’m not good at obligation reading either.
When I met Katie, she introduced me to her cousin Brian, who has creative ambitions of his own (and the talent to back them up). He demonstrated a lot of enthusiasm for my writing and insisted on purchasing a copy of the current draft of The Lesser Evil (then called The Padakan Past). I framed that money as my first sale, but a bigger thrill came when he read the book and offered feedback.
So, yes, it’s true. I am writing to be noticed, to be read, to be reviewed. Maybe even to get famous (though I am aware that this can be a double-edged sword).
Why? I’ve been doing some thinking about this recently, and I’ve decided that this is my eternal quest for validation (or, in the words of Rocky, “to stand toe-to-toe and say ‘I am'”).
I think this is the case, because since meeting Katie, my writing drive has diminished somewhat, and more so since we got married and more so again since she got pregnant.
My writing has always been the way I defined myself. I never had any trouble with the sentence “I am a writer.” In some ways, I guess that it has been a shield, protecting me from some harsh truths about myself, but also blocking my forward view.
I still want to write, and be read, so I don’t think I’m ‘cured’ yet. Maybe I’m not supposed to be. But while I’m off on this tangent, I will mention that I think I’ve hit a healthier balance between writing and life than I have ever had in the past.
Everyone does it
Lots of people write to get noticed. Some people even start … blogs …
Also, with Twitter, Facebook status updates and public photo galleries on Flickr, etc, etc, countless online people are trying to reach an audience broader than that they could reach with face-to-face conversation. To share something else, to feel validated.
Academaesthetics will help me get across what I am trying to say. It is a perfect case in point, as it is my only published work. When it was published, I sent a brief note of thanks to Neil Cohn, a comics theorist in the USA who helped me put together some of my theories. He mentioned it on his site, and this mention was mentioned on the news weblog of The Comics Journal. Someone read that link, and then mentioned it on their blog here, and further responses were generated from that. It eventually came back full circle, with someone asking Neil Cohn if he had heard of Academaesthetics. Very cool.
The short period in 2007 that Academaesthetics went viral was incredibly exciting. To see word-of-mouth reaching around the world, to include an audience whose members I hadn’t met, gave me an amazing warm tingle of pride that I didn’t anticipate, and can’t even properly describe. Seeing it mentioned in an academic article was likewise very exciting, and gave me the feeling of legitimacy that I was looking for.
The occasional word of praise for my work sent into the virtual ether was a tremendous feeling as well. Interestingly, these words from strangers trumped by far the (obligatory) face-to-face compliments I received for this work, and even those objective ones from the university staff.
“Academaesthetics is pure pleasure.” Wow.
Failure to be noticed has always been on my mind. It’s always been a possibility that I would never be published, I would never be read, and/or I would never be a pro writer. So it has occurred to me, more than once, that my writing may not actually be the path to the validation I seek.
This is why I do feel for Alec Baldwin as, after trying for over thirty years, he clearly never got the recognition that he craved.
However, as this issue has been on my mind for a while, I have been able to ponder it quite extensively. When I read this article about Alec Baldwin, I couldn’t help but think he might have had the wrong idea.
I regard Academaesthetics as a success. It wasn’t seen by a million people, and it didn’t generate rave reviews or a cent of revenue, and the (limited) word-of-mouth died down after about two weeks. But I enjoyed the hell out of the process of writing it, drawing it, and seeing it published. I learned an amazing amount about myself, about comics, about writing, and about my potential in these fields.
The word “failure” seems to be a big one to throw in the face of even this much, let alone a career as prosperous and prodigious as Baldwin’s.
While I hope that Academaesthetics is not the pinnacle of my career, I see it as a big step forward. Even if I never publish again, I consider this to be success enough for me, for the reasons I have highlighted above. I know what it’s like to be read by people I don’t know; I got that warm fuzzy feeling once, which is more than many people get.
Maybe Alec reached a point where he wasn’t stepping forward; only moving laterally, or backwards. If that’s the case, and he didn’t get as far as he wanted/needed, I really do feel sorry for him.
I hope he finds what he’s looking for somewhere.
This all said, writing is as much about process as anything else. I feel that writing is one of the things that helps me develop as a person. It helps me learn about myself, about life in general, and encourages me to dissect my thoughts on certain issues in ways that thinking alone cannot quite manage.
While it is (extremely) nice to find that strangers are enjoying your work, it can’t be everything, or you might turn around one day and declare your decades-long career a failure.
I intend to continue writing, and would do so even if I knew that none of it would ever be published.