Chuck Wendig had a post earlier this week about being the writer you are, not the writer people want you to be. It’s great advice at the best of time, but it’s kind of perfect and kind of unhelpful, because I’m not sure of the writer I want to be.
People assume that if you’re a writer, you want to get published. Other writers assume that. The internet has opened that assumption up a bit; more and more people are considering self-publishing as a valid method of publishing your work, and there are more and more markets for short fiction. But the assumption is still there, and I think because everyone assumes that writers want to be published, I assumed that I should go for it, too.
I didn’t post any kind of 2015-in-review, for a couple of reasons. Obviously one is that this is the first post on this blog, but I’m on the internet in other places under other names and didn’t do any year-end reflecting there, either. The other is that I’m not really sure what to say about my writing in 2015; I set a goal, achieved it, and the result left me feeling sort of empty.
Last year I decided to seriously polish up some writing and submit it for publication, for the first time ever. By the end of the year I’d written less than I do in most years, but I’d successfully sold a novella to Less Than Three Press. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about it, I’m proud of the achievement and I’m very grateful to LT3 for taking on a piece from a completely unpublished writer. It’s just that while it feels like an achievement, I’m not sure that publishing is really for me. I’m going to wait until this novella is out to decide how I want to proceed in future, but at the moment I feel as though my grand adventure in submitting work for publication may have led me to the epiphany that I just want to put my work on the internet for free.
I think there’s another assumption we make about writers: that we all want to learn to be better writers, to improve our craft. That we all want feedback. It’s not one that I can dismiss as easily as “all writers want to be published”, because there’s truth in it for me. I do want to be a better writer. I devour any storytelling analysis and theory I can get my hands on. I love talking about story structure, Greek tragedy, the three act structure, Vladimir Proppisms and my new favourite thing, kishoutenketsu, a kind of plot without conflict. Clearly I want to learn about writing, keep learning and developing in my own writing, and keep getting better.
And yet, if I’m not going to write professionally, I don’t want to be held to professional standards.
The events of this year have made me realise that I want my writing to be a hobby, not a profession. I want to be an amateur. Mostly, I want my writing to be like knitting. People might admire their friend’s hand-knitted pieces, ask how they made them and complement them on the style, but they don’t tend to critique them. My partner is an avid knitter, and when I asked her what she’d do if someone criticised her for a hole in a piece, she said, “That would never happen, and if it did, I’d just tell them I meant to do that.” People don’t tend to criticise home craft because they can recognise that it’s a labour of love, because they realise it’s not for them, and because the crafter to say they meant to do that.
That’s kind of how I think about my writing, and that’s how I’m going to try to approach it, going forward. It’s not that I don’t want to try new things and push myself and learn more about writing, it’s that this is something I do for fun and I want to do it on my terms, not for the sake of publication or for someone else’s idea of the trials and critiques a writer should go through to grow. I’m doing this for fun and doing it mostly for myself, even though I might share some writing on here later in the year. For now, at least, that’s the kind of writer I am.