Would You Stop Writing If You Knew You Would Never Have Anything Published?

In the past I’ve asked people how they define success in their writing careers and there were a lot of differing opinions offered on the subject. Some people attached commercial goals to their definitions, while others were only really interested in gaining readers, regardless of any monetary reward. There is of course no right answer to such a question, but it was great to hear from everyone on the subject.

This line of questioning still has a great level of interest to me. I am again, not looking to poll people in search of a correct answer or some sort of accepted norm, rather I am genuinely interested in hearing what drives people in their writing. So, today’s question posed to you is if you knew that you would never have any of your work published in the future, would you stop writing?

This is a concept explored in Robert J. Sawyer’s book Flashforward (which would go on to become the bad Flashforward TV show on ABC). The setup of Flashforward is basically that when the Large Hadron Collider is turned on, the whole world experiences an event where for two minutes, they blackout and see a glimpse of their future twenty-one years from now. Some people see that they are not with their current wife/husband, some see that they never reached the job that they were chasing and others see nothing at all, which implies that they will not be alive in twenty-one years.

The whole event creates this great debate, especially amongst married couples that won’t be together in the future. If they know that they won’t be together down the line, is there any reason to continue the relationship, even if it’s a supremely happy union at the moment? One of the main character’s brother is a struggling writer. He waits tables while he tries to break into the business. His vision of the future informs him that in twenty-one years he will have not reached his goal and will still be waiting tables. Armed with this knowledge, the brother takes his own life in a moment of despair.

Now, I absolutely do not want to explore something as dark or morbid as this scenario, but I think the question in itself is an interesting one. If you knew that you would never have anything published and would experience no real commercial or critical success in your writing career, would you stop writing? And I know this question is about to be answered by a slew of people defiantly responding somewhere along the lines of, “Of course I’d continue! Writing is my passion! Writing is my outlet! Writing is my life!” and this is fine. I would probably respond the same way. Most of us genuinely enjoy writing and need it as an outlet.

So, to preempt this response, I would pose an amended question then and ask, if you knew you would never have anything published, how would it change your writing? And by this I mean would it change how much you write in a given day and what you write about? Would you no longer sit in front of a word processor for seven hours straight banging out the days thousand words, instead maybe favoring carrying around a notebook which you scribble in from time to time? Also, would the subject matter of your writing change? If you knew that you were writing just for yourself and maybe a select number of friends and family, would you trim the fat from the things you wrote about, only confronting subjects you wanted to with no consideration for making it commercial or mainstream?

I know a lot of this is highly subjective and I don’t mean to once again call in to question your motivations for writing, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. I also absolutely don’t mean to suggest that your writing should be devalued if it is not published, self-published or doesn’t sell well. Writers should never stop writing, especially if it is truly something they love. Even if it’s the worst prose committed to paper, the most cliched characters ever conceived or the most derivative plot ever crafted, this outlet should never be taken away from a person.

4 comments to Would You Stop Writing If You Knew You Would Never Have Anything Published?

  1. Mark Welker says:

    Although I get a lot of enjoyment just from the buzz of writing itself, a big part of why I write is to express myself. Unfortunately for me, my notion expression requires an audience of at least one – to receive and respond.

    I write to join in a conversation, and while that conversation constantly shifts and sometimes leaves me behind, I don't think I would find the act as engaging without that promise of conversation.

    Publishing may not be the sole answer to that question though. I earn very little from the work I've had published and I would gladly give out my work for free if I knew it would improve my chances of reaching an engaged audience.

    So I would keep writing, but my focus would always be about reaching an audience somehow.

  2. Ann says:

    Great post Conor and one I hadn't really thought about before. I love writing and have done it for years but have earned practically zilt doing it.

    Like Mark and I would even venture to say most artists / writers do their art to reach / engage an audience. If that audience is just you the artist / writer then it removes the feedback mechanism in your work which removes a key component of the artisitic process I think.

    Its a bit like cook meals. If you cook a meal for yourself its functional. When you get the opportunity to cook for other people it makes you strive to make some fantastic and there is an inherent pleasure in seeing others enjoy something you have created.

    Good luck with the Kickstarter project (where I found your blog).


  3. Conor says:

    @Mark – I agree with you. The prospect of receiving feedback on my work certainly outweighs the possibility of commercial success. I don't think there is anything wrong though with keeping an audience in mind when you write.

    @Ann – Thanks for stopping by. It's cool that you got referred through kickstarter. You make a lot of great points. Writing for an audience really does raise the stakes, but as you mentioned, it is incredibly satisfying to get positive feedback from them.

  4. Paul Salvette says:

    For me, I do not understand why someone would want to write if there was no audience. It would be like those guys who paint themselves in silver and move when you give them the money, except for the street they would be doing it in the middle of the desert. We all seek validation and praise.

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