a writing dilemma
August 3, 2020 4:12 AM   Subscribe

Should I write the thing that I love writing, or the thing that could get published?

Since I was a child, I've written fiction for myself. I started out drawing comics, but then I progressed to writing and I just kept doing it after that. I really love writing. I am never happier than when I am feeling smooth and productive and character motivations are making sense and the dialogue is flowing. Honestly, it feels what I was put on the world to do.

At the same time, I am really aware that nothing I write for my own enjoyment has any artistic or literary merit. I use writing as a way to get away from life stress and it's just a tool to make me happy. It's usually romance or fantasy. It never says anything big or important. Even though I am a POC, nothing I write has anything useful to say about race or society or anything like that. I don't write beautifully or poetically. It just feels to me like hanging out with people I like, except they happen to be characters I have created, not real people. It's not erotica or anything like that but it feels very personal - I'd be embarrassed if people I knew, knew that I thought like this.

I have never shared my personal work with anyone. As soon as I write for an audience, I feel like I am being inauthentic because I feel the need to move away from my own voice - even though people have tended to respond to that work reasonably positively. Also, being a POC, there is a whole other tension to grapple with about writing for an audience from my own culture versus filtering it for an imaginary Western reader, but I'm not even going to start on that. Just to point out that that is an additional issue about authenticity that I struggle with.

At the same time I have learned so much about writing and plotting and keeping motivated over the years. I feel like, I've gathered all this knowledge through doing this thing all my life, shouldn't I use it for something I feel proud to share with the world? What is the point of writing so much over the years if you never share it with anyone? What is the use of spending all your life learning how to do a thing if you don't use your skills to make something worthwhile?

I feel this weird tension between this being the thing I love doing more than anything else in the world and the knowledge that it is not useful and I am too ashamed to share it with anybody. I know I could probably write for public consumption if I wanted, I just know it wouldn't be authentic. The stupid stuff I love to write is the truest expression of me.

So I really struggle with knowing what I should be focusing on: work that could get shared or even published, or the work that really makes me happy, which I don't feel I would ever want to share. I realise only I can answer this question, but some perspective from AskMe would be really helpful and interesting.
posted by unicorn chaser to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add... I have ideas for work that could be publishable. I feel like they have a bit more thematic heft, they have things to say beyond "Let's just hang out with a bunch of fictional people for 30 chapters" - but they don't draw me in the same way as the stupid stuff I enjoy writing for its own sake.
posted by unicorn chaser at 4:25 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Why not both?

One personal project, alongside another more-commercial one? Maybe one day they’ll start to converge, who knows?
posted by rd45 at 4:29 AM on August 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Bullshit your work doesn't have inherent artistic and literary merit. Look at all the bloviating white dudes whose navel gazing dreck gets published.

And as a fellow POC, FUCK the idea that your work has to say something about race or society to be worth publishing. We are more than our oppressions, and quite frankly I'll take some nice frothy fantasy romance over yet another tome about the Pain Of Not Being White.

Write what you love. Your voice is unique and important and so needed, don't let anyone tell you different.
posted by Tamanna at 4:32 AM on August 3, 2020 [72 favorites]

Best answer: Do you want to write authentically or be a hack?

If you want money and recognition writing for other people's specifications then you are a hack. If you write what works for you, what flows vividly then you are authentic and having fun. There are excellent reasons for writing for publication. They seem to be the opposite of the reasons why you write.

I suggest that you spend a year or so doing both, on a firm schedule such as an hour a day around your day job, alternating between personal fiction one day and fiction-for-potential pay the next. Don't stop writing the personal fic but regard it as what you do to train fluency. You may find that writing 'seriously' makes you sweat blood and is boring; you may even find it is impossible for you. But give it a go if you want to see if the training you did doing your authentic writing will translate into the possibility of producing public writing. Don't feel bad if you really don't have the motivation to do the drudgery writing. Not everything can or should be turned into an income or reputation. Just because you enjoy sex doesn't mean you should take up being a sex worker.

Don't let writing for the people ruin writing for yourself. If writing for publication induces fluency problems with your private fiction, chances are you should stop doing it, as it will just ruin your art and your craft and not produce anything that you can publish.

Consider tweaking your private fiction to be suitable for publication.

Keep writing. You may find that as you mature and have more experiences your private fiction will morph into something that has a message and commercial value. More likely it won't. But experiment with your private fiction so that you don't always write the same story over and over again. This is not because it isn't okay and valuable to write the same romance over and over again, but because in time you will want that romance to evolve into other forms of private fiction so that it remains engaging to you.

Even if you don't publish and even if you don't have a deep message your fiction has value and is worthwhile.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:33 AM on August 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think you'll get a lot of support for working towards publication, and I don't disagree.

However, I was in media for 15 years and although there were lots of things I wasn't good at, one thing I am good at is sniffing out the line between something that's on the leading edge/niche, and something that is about to become mainstream, and so I was able on a web editorial turnaround time to deliver some serious traffic, and that includes to stories that mattered as well as to fluff. And...I lost my mojo, partly because of the industry but also because I wasn't enjoying my eclectic brain, I was always focused on My Job. It's now 5 years out and I am finally loving the world again (even in a pandemic) and when I was trying to do work That Mattered creatively, I grew to hate it.

I am not you, but.

It is truly okay to have things that are just for you. Not everyone who loves baking and is awesome at it has to work as a pastry chef, not every talented musician has to give up their day job, not every artistic endeavour has to be for others.

That you're asking gives me a sense that in another couple of years, you probably will have some of the same feelings about something that you want to publish. But maybe not! If you want permission to spend time in your own head and your own world...I give it to you. If you are an audience of one, you still matter.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:46 AM on August 3, 2020 [18 favorites]

It's fine to do either. If you want your writing to be more than a hobby, or to take up more than a hobby amount of time then you almost certainly need to make it shareable and probably publishable. If you're fine with it fitting into your life in a less consuming way, then I'd stick to what makes you happiest. You can always switch the other way in the future.
posted by plonkee at 4:50 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've experienced this dilemma myself, but the question resolved itself as soon as I realised that I just could not put in the time to do the boring, potentially-commercial work that I'm not actually jazzed about. I have a finite amount of time for writing and only the stuff I really care about gets to take up that time. The fact that I have the technical skills to do more commercially-oriented work isn't a particularly relevant data point as I just can't bring myself to invest the ass-in-seat time necessary to get anywhere with it.

I'm very gingerly beginning to attempt to place some of the work I've done in the last few years at the moment, and I'm very open to rejection, because rejection means I tried! And didn't just automatically reject myself in advance because I was afraid of someone else rejecting me. If all I get for my trouble is a pile of rejection emails, that's okay - at least I gave myself the chance to find out whether the world was interested in the work that I'm really excited about doing.

If it turns out the world isn't interested, I'm going to keep doing the work, because I've realised that making what I love is the bit that motivates me, not getting money or external validation for doing it. I'm open to those things if they happen, but they're not the defining reason why I do the work.

Which is a long way of saying, which bit of it is motivating to you? Doing the thing, or the idea that doing the thing might bring you money and external recognition one day?
posted by terretu at 4:56 AM on August 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Doesn't look to me that anyone has suggested yet that you work on your anxiety about sharing your personal work. Romance and fantasy are both quite publishable, even when they don't say anything big or important or anything useful about race or society. Your level of enjoyment in the work suggests that others might also enjoy the work. Hanging out with enjoyable characters for 30 chapters is exactly why many people read. I'd encourage you to connect to other romance and/or fantasy writers and begin to make safe connections with people with whom you feel comfortable sharing a sample chapter or two of your personal work.
posted by shadygrove at 5:10 AM on August 3, 2020 [20 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with having most or all of your writing be private work you do for fun. If that's what makes you happy, and if trying to write for an audience is stressful and unpleasant, I don't see any reason not to just keep on doing what you have been.

A helpful way to frame it might be to consider what specifically about the process makes you happy. For me, talking to other people about my work and sharing the finished product with an audience is something I really enjoy, so that's shaped my choices.

Not to be trite, but most of us are buried up to our necks in the culture of capitalism, which tells us we need to monetize every single thing we make or do. But we don't!!!! Writing for fun is a wonderful way to pass the time, it doesn't need to also be your job unless that's what you want.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:30 AM on August 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There is definitely a market for stories that are just hanging out with characters you like. It's my favorite thing to read. A lot of romances, domestic fantasy, things like that, are very much that kind of book. It doesn't have to be Important and Profound to be marketable. Write what you love.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:50 AM on August 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

Write what you love. If it happens to sell, great. If not, you'll have had a ball doing it and derived all sorts of other satisfaction in the process.

Almost no-one makes any money from writing, and most of those who do struggle to match minimum wage. Writing in the hopes of making money from it is a mug's game and guarantees you a year or more of miserable slog as you produce the book involved.
posted by Paul Slade at 6:00 AM on August 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: What is the point of writing so much over the years if you never share it with anyone? What is the use of spending all your life learning how to do a thing if you don't use your skills to make something worthwhile? ...

I use writing as a way to get away from life stress and it's just a tool to make me happy.

Dearest OP, I think you make the point pretty obvious. The point is to get away from life stress and to feel happy. What is up with calling it "just" a tool to make you happy. You'd be wealthy if you could bottle that tool. You get that, right?

The situation is not black and white. Your writing is not worthless if you never share it; it does not necessarily become more valuable (to you, I mean) if you do share it or if it is published. Do what you will but please don't undervalue what you have now.

Ultimately, your duty is to yourself and not to some grand idea of being published for the sake of being published. If you want to share your writing, feel free. Share it! If you want to try to get published, that is totally cool if it happens. Still, savour this knowledge: This very moment you have something golden, something that few other people have. You have a practice that makes you happy during a challenging period of history. Enjoy!
posted by Bella Donna at 6:10 AM on August 3, 2020 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I believe strongly that there is value in the things you do for pleasure: either for your own pleasure for other people's. There is a lot in the world that makes us miserable. Fun is a gift. Fun makes life worth living. So maybe this will be something that you do for your own pleasure, and maybe it will turn out that other people enjoy reading your writing. Either way is terrific. It is terrific if you have found a thing that makes you happy, and it's also terrific if you publish books that aren't great literature or earth-shattering analysis but that make other people happy. Making people happy is, in and of itself, a profound social good.

So I think you should investigate whether anyone else would want to read the stuff you write. It may be that your writing won't be compelling to anyone else, which is fine. But maybe take some initial steps towards sharing it with other people to see if anyone else enjoys reading it. I think you will also need to investigate whether you are open to revising your writing, because chances are that you'd get feedback from editors that could improve your writing. If that's not something you're open to, then maybe writing is something you just do for yourself. Could you join a writer's group or something like that?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:11 AM on August 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

P.S. Writing the thing you love rather than the thing that you think will get published is usually more rewarding and sometimes a better way to get published to boot. (Based on the experience of my few friends who have been published.)
posted by Bella Donna at 6:11 AM on August 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Mod note: A comment deleted and a note for all: Let's move away from using terms that carry a lot of baggage for particular communities we may not be a part of; in this case, sex workers. Sex workers are actual people in our communities and trying to get a point across with the use of dehumanizing jokes and outdated slurs are not the MetaFilter way. Let's do better!
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 6:20 AM on August 3, 2020 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Try to find out what it really means to you to want to publish something you're proud of. There's no wrong answer, except to put too much value on what others might think. In a perfect world, what would the book with your name on it be? Would there even be a book with your name on it, or would the perfect world be one where your work is only for you?

You should do what you affirmatively want to do, not what you feel like you should do.

Because all these things are true:
--Some of your existing work is probably publishable, if your potential work is publishable.
--You have no obligation to share your existing work.
--Your authentic voice should have a place in publishing.
--Your authentic voice is yours to share or keep private as you see fit.
--Publishing is racist as hell. If you publish, you will deal with White Nonsense.
--Publishing is scrambling to back up its many pledges to value representation.
--You don't have to monetize your hobby.
--If you want to, get that money.
--It's rare to get a lot of money from publishing.
--Being a hack is fun. Hacks can be good writers. (I am a hack).
--Writing for the market might make it hard to make mental space for other kinds of writing. Everyone's different this way.
--The market changes in the time it takes to write.
--The most interesting books (and sometimes the biggest hits) are the things the market wouldn't have been able to predict.
--Some writers find the publishing stuff fun. Some writers do not.
posted by lampoil at 6:30 AM on August 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

Being published is overrated, in my experience. I thought it was what I wanted and it happened and it kinda sucked in the end, to be honest, and burned out my love of writing a bit. If you do come up with an idea you want to publish, by all means, pursue it, but sharing your writing with other people is so totally not the only way to be worthwhile.
posted by ferret branca at 6:46 AM on August 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I see two fears stopping you here and your problem (any writer's problem, honestly) is that one of them is bound to come true.

The first fear is that people won't read it, that all this effort will be wasted. Sure, this pressure to monetize everything is a poison, things can be worth doing regardless of financial outcome; blessed are the artists who can find joy in their art without any need for any sort of external validation, etc, etc. Personally, I'm not quite there yet. Maybe I just need to become a more rewarding reader of myself. But the time I spend writing - it's time I'm not spending with friends and family, time I'm not spending on healthy stuff like exercise or sleep. There are some very real opportunity costs. The stories I make up for myself - they're entertaining enough in my head, why write them down just for me? There's something else I'd want to achieve by writing, besides entertaining myself, and the first step might be getting some clarity what that is. (Honestly, I've just been mulling over that question for myself; I don't find it easy to answer at all).

That said, as others have pointed out repeatedly, there's no reason at all to believe that self-indulgent writing would have to be an obstacle to that additional goal, whatever it might be. Obviously it's not necessarily an obstacle towards getting published. No reason at all to believe that you couldn't entertain yourself while also entertaining others, and entertaining others is a noble enough pursuit that should certainly justify the effort of writing. You don't also need to educate and edify!

If you write with the goal of sharing with others (whether that would be commercial publication, or your own blog, or a fan-fiction site or whatever), sure, it's usually a good idea to edit (eg. for clarity) in places, which probably doesn't feel very self-indulgent in the moment. But I don't think this would necessarily detract from your authenticity. The emotional core of the narrative could still remain as self-indulgent as your heart desires; this would be more about cosmetic details (like, maybe the pacing of that chapter works slighty better without the seventh description of a lavish meal, etc.). People often recommend writing the first draft in the most self-indulgent manner possible and leave that sort of polishing for subsequent rounds. But even if you fail to do that, that might not be a knock-out criterion for many readers. (I'm sure you can think of a few examples one might name here). Point is, chances of publication depend on many factors, and a big one is privilege and another one is mere coincidence - hitting the right button at the right moment. Extent of self-indulgence seems a comparatively neglible factor. If "not finding readers" is your greatest fear, I can only say, self-indulge away!

The second fear of course is, that people _will_read it. And here's where self-indulgence just makes you a lot more vulnerable. Because you're absolutely right, they will learn more about you. But isn't that kinda the thrill? In my opinion, this is what often makes self-indulgent writing the most powerful. The stakes are higher, the urgency is greater and it definitely adds to the experience of reading. There's a certain kind of awe I will always have for a really self-indulgent work of art, just for the bravery and shamelessness of it, even if it might make me think less of the artist in other ways (but it usually doesn't. What makes me thinks less of artists, might well be what they accidentially reveal in their work, but those revelations are usually not about unspoken desires, etc, and more about their unquestioned assumptions of the ways of the world. But those things tend to be much less personal, just evidence that artists can often be fairly conventional in depressing ways.)
posted by sohalt at 6:59 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My old company used to play this scene from "Walk the Line" all the time during trainings. They were mostly training salespeople, so... shrug... but the point of the scene is that the stuff you do because you believe in it generally resonates more than the stuff you do because you think it will resonate with other people.

If I were you, I'd focus on writing for myself, but occasionally throwing in an exercise to incorporate your characters into more publishable work.

Keep in mind that "nothing really happens" is actually the basis for some of the greatest literature and pop culture. Seinfeld was not only about nothing, it was about being about nothing. But it remains beloved simply because putting well-defined characters in certain situations leads to some pretty profound truths. On a more highbrow level, nothing really happens in my favorite novel, Anna Karenina, either. Girl bangs guy, girl's friends beef with her about it, another guy owns a farm and gets married and has a kid and is generally boring AF. I mean, there's the choo choo bit, but the book continues for hundreds of pages after that, mostly about Levin's farm, which is the real center of the book, title notwithstanding. And it's the part that resonates with me, a middle-aged guy who's married and has kids and is generally boring AF, to the point where reading some of the scenes is almost transcendent.

If you buy into Hemingway's iceberg theory, the fact that you have years of these characters just sitting around and hanging out together will make any story you incorporate them into that much more believable and enjoyable.

As for feeling embarrassed, well, Kafka was so embarrassed by his writing that he refused to publish anything during his lifetime, and specifically instructed the executor of his will to destroy any writing left behind. Thankfully, Max Brod did no such thing, and consequently Kafka is arguably the most influential writer of the 20th century.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:43 AM on August 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think you can choose both! Sounds like maybe you haven't heard the saying, "Write the book you want to read"? People give that advice because there's so much power and creative potential in your own enjoyment and for most people, if they try to what what they think "the public" wants to read, it ends up less vibrant, less alive, and, ironically, often less publishable.

So I would echo the advice above about working on your sense that what you have been writing isn't publishable or relatable or good enough for whatever reason. As part of that process, I would let someone you know and trust (and maybe probably someone else who is a POC) read some of your stuff. I know that might be uncomfortable for you, given what you say about being embarrassed to have people you know seeing these aspects of you, but honestly, there's no way to become a published author that doesn't involve moments of discomfort.

If you do decide to start sharing your writing, you can let your friend(s) know that it's edgy for you and create whatever sequence or boundaries you need. Aka, read this but only tell me things you liked about it!

It really sounds like writing allows you to tap into something beautiful, powerful, and nourishing for you and I believe that many other people would also find the beauty and power within the characters and stories you've imagined if they had access to them.
posted by overglow at 8:03 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As a fellow POC writer, I just want to emphasize this point by Tamanna:

And as a fellow POC, FUCK the idea that your work has to say something about race or society to be worth publishing. We are more than our oppressions, and quite frankly I'll take some nice frothy fantasy romance over yet another tome about the Pain Of Not Being White.

I mean, this is it in a nutshell. Write what you love. That love will come through, and THAT is what makes compelling writing. Simple as. ❤️
posted by nayantara at 8:18 AM on August 3, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: even great writers are not all that good at knowing what's going to be publishable until they've published a few times, and even then there are other people to overrule them. anything that makes you really happy to write is likely to make at least a few other people happy to read, as long as it's finished and well structured and all that. Romance in particular is HIGHLY publishable if you tailor it just a little bit to the bullshit conventions of the day. do you not think you could do just enough tailoring of your personal pleasure-work to make it bearable to share other people? besides that, you could put a pseudonym on it to maintain the separation between your private and public lives.

making other people happy is meaningful and worthwhile. so is making yourself happy, of course. but like. if you go to an artisanal bakery and have a really good baguette you don't ask why it doesn't taste more socially meaningful. art is more flexible than baguettes, it does a lot of important things, but giving pleasure is still one of them.

if writing to an imagined audience changes your voice in a way that you don't like, don't do it except as an experiment; do not pre-sell-out yourself to yourself unless you have a contract in hand already.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:51 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

The best writing is authentic. If you haven't shown it to anyone, you don't know how much they'll like it. I would try to be brave and share this part of yourself, even if it's just with friends.
posted by pinochiette at 9:00 AM on August 3, 2020

I feel this as I've been writing seriously for well over a decade without anything published. Speaking for myself here, it's frustrating; I spent all this time and I have nothing to show for it.

But that's true of so many other things in life, right? Like, how we spend our time doesn't always result in a material product, nor should it. If you enjoy the process of doing a thing, regardless of the outcome, that doesn't seem like time wasted to me. (Invariably, some people in the world will disagree. That'll happen no matter the choices we make.)

Of course, there is something to be said for pushing outside of one's comfort zone. Your writing could speak deeply and powerfully to someone else. When it happens, that's some transcendent stuff.

I do like the advice that this isn't an either-or situation. I know plenty of professional writers, and not all of them see every project they write as a thing bound for publication. Sometimes you just wanna muck around with words rather than create something to sell. Besides, those aren't mutually exclusive options.
posted by xenization at 9:32 AM on August 3, 2020

Frankly? Frothy Romance is arguably WAY MORE publishable than a half hearted attempt at Important Literature. Try self publishing some on Amazon under a pseudonym and see how it goes.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:35 AM on August 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

...and the knowledge that it is not useful and I am too ashamed to share it with anybody.

On the first point, that is not your place or possible ability to judge, it's always and only the reader that knows if an authors words are what they need. On the second point, share, let someone give feedback. Several others, gently, carefully, someone you trust, but share.

(really, just from the few paragraphs in your question, anything you write is likely far far above certain 'bars')
posted by sammyo at 10:37 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't read books for their usefulness, that is a side effect. I read them because I enjoy the experience.

I don't write because I'm trying to be useful either. I write because I love to do it (or am compelled to -- the artistic process if frought and stuff).

There is a lot to be said for slice of life stories. How many threads on here have begged for comfort book reccomendations? There is also some writing out there on how the western obsession with conflict as the basis of all stories is limiting and narrow-minded. I know LeGuin has written about it, off the top of my head.

People read 200k word fan fictions where "nothing happens" but hanging out. Hundreds of manga and anime do it, slice-of-life is a normal subgenre. Gentle stories are good, and they are neceasary! Healing, comfort, emotional authenticity, wow those are so important and you are doing it!

Like you I am overcoming a similar struggle but I feel like I'm just a few paces ahead (and only because I took a writer's block workshop this summer). I've had two folders of "for fun" and "novels" for nearly 15 years. The more things I move from the fun folder and consider them valuable and commit to them, the more I actually write.

If you want an unpublished writing buddy who is going through it too, memail me :) good luck and trust yourself. You can figure out what you want "to say" in revisions lol
posted by wellifyouinsist at 11:13 AM on August 3, 2020

It may be that things you’ve already written can be molded or edited into something more “publishable.” Is there a through-line or character arc that can be developed? It might be good to have a friend read it to see if there’s something there that you haven’t consciously realized. You could anonymously blog some of your work and maybe get some helpful feedback. Even rereading some of your earlier work might give you some new perspective on it. I’m just saying that you may be further along the path than you realize.

In any case editing and revision are a big part of the process and getting some experience with that can only help you refine your craft.
posted by sjswitzer at 11:24 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine wrote a 'just for fun with the characters' piece on Wattpad, and she won an award and was approached by a publisher and about a TV series! She needed to rewrite the story to make it more publishable, but that is easy enough to do, especially once you have the first draft down. Also, she didn't know HOW to rewrite it until the publisher put in their interest; they wanted her to play up the romantic part, but a different publisher might have told her to drop the romance and make it more like an action thriller. So write and share what you love! And don't change a thing until someone offers to pay for it.
posted by The otter lady at 12:20 PM on August 3, 2020

Best answer: What is the point of writing so much over the years if you never share it with anyone? What is the use of spending all your life learning how to do a thing if you don't use your skills to make something worthwhile?

I think others above have had great advice and comments already, but I wanted to push back on this specifically, and offer a different perspective that might help you accept your "self-indulgent" writing.

There are a lot of creative hobbies out there that aren't necessarily about sharing the results or the process with anyone: playing a musical instrument, playing video games, making models or train sets or whatever, collecting things, drawing, painting, sketching, etc. Do some people share the results of these hobbies with other people? Sure. But a lot don't. Because at a certain point, you can let your hobby just be about play. Playing isn't just for kids, it's an important leisure activity for all of us, and subjecting it to capitalist standards of profitability and productivity is pretty diametrically opposed to the point of playing. Don't feel guilty about letting some things just be about what you enjoy. You don't have to end up making anything "worthwhile" to make play worth it in and of itself.
posted by yasaman at 1:12 PM on August 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

I use writing as a way to get away from life stress and it's just a tool to make me happy. It's usually romance or fantasy. It never says anything big or important. Even though I am a POC, nothing I write has anything useful to say about race or society or anything like that. I don't write beautifully or poetically.

Most people do not read beautiful and important books that have something useful to say about race or society. They read books about ladies banging dudes who are sometimes wolves. Sometimes they read cozy mysteries where the mystery barely exists because the main attraction of the series is hanging out with a bunch of eccentrics and eating croissants.

You might want to look into AWA workshops as a place to get used to having people read your work. They focus more on positive feedback and encouragement than an Iowa-style workshop.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:31 PM on August 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

This is really sad.

At the same time, I am really aware that nothing I write for my own enjoyment has any artistic or literary merit. ... I have never shared my personal work with anyone. ... I feel this weird tension between this being the thing I love doing more than anything else in the world and the knowledge that it is not useful and I am too ashamed to share it with anybody.

But, I think maybe the good news is that ... you aren't the best judge of your own work. I think you are your own worst critic. It can be incredibly hard for people to share their own, authentic work because it feels incredibly vulnerable and exposing. I think it would be so great if you found a writing group where you start to share the stuff that you write when you're in that flow. I bet that's your best writing.

I'm going to go a step further and say that you maybe have a story that you tell yourself, that your favorite and most personal writing is terrible, BECAUSE that means then you don't have to face the vulnerability and possible rejection of sharing it.

I think the real question here is, "How do I start to share my romance and fantasy writing to get helpful and supportive feedback? How do I build my confidence about sharing this writing so see if I can make this into a thing?"

And please work hard to stop rejecting yourself to keep others from rejecting you. Romance and fantasy are very popular genres, and people of people want to read good stories that help them escape, too.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:36 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you want to write for a wider audience, in the traditional sense? Or do you just feel like you should?

I wonder if, even if you manage to find a way of taking your current enjoyable writing and making it commercial, whether that would drain the joy out of it? Suddenly you'd be writing with your readers in mind, aware it was going to be judged, and that freedom would be gone.

I say this as someone who knows exactly where you're coming from. I've spent a few years chipping away at trying to become a playwright, albeit in a fairly stop-start fashion given that I also work full time. I've done reasonably well with the stuff I've written - no professional productions yet but a lot of fringe and competitive development opportunities have come my way and I'm still working on it and improving.

But it feels hard.

Then, a couple of years ago, I started writing anonymous fanfic. Oh my God! It was without doubt the most writing joy I've ever had in my life. Nobody really knew who was writing it, the other people in the fandom lapped it up regardless of quality. I didn't need to write things that had fully-formed plots, I could just meander, follow my characters (and somehow it all ended up having plots and complex characters anyway). You know what I'm talking about - all the stuff you describe. Pure joy. And I know that the reason I enjoy it is because there are zero stakes, zero fear of judgement. It was the first time in my life that I ever understood and experienced the things that Proper Writers talk about - feeling compelled to write every day, the words just flying out of my fingers so forcefully I couldn't stop them, the characters popping up in my head every time I went for a walk to show me what they going to get up to next and creating fully-formed scenes.

So... treasure the joy that you've found in your writing - it's such a gift to feel that fulfilment, and we're both lucky to know that feeling. I feel like it's way more important than being published and I'll be grateful for that feeling until the day I die.

That said - there are some ways you could ring fence that joy and still probe new possibilities. Maybe you could put your 'joy writing' up anonymously on whatever the original prose version of AO3 is (Wattpad?) and see if you get any readers? For a while I had a sizeable, and massively enthusiastic readership who commented on and discussed my fics and the joy was even greater. Even if I get successful at playwriting tomorrow, probably more people have already read my fics than will ever see my plays.

And/or maybe try writing something separate that feels more publishable and see how that feels too. But treasure and preserve the joy - don't undervalue it, it's priceless.
posted by penguin pie at 1:59 PM on August 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

AO3 happily hosts original fiction too! You can post it there and send it round to your friends.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:55 PM on August 3, 2020

Response by poster: I'm really glad I posted this question, even though I felt a little embarrassed and unsure to hit Post. I've truly benefited from every single answer that has been posted. Please don't be offended if I didn't best answer you, it's only because the ones I marked as best answers had an additional perspective or even a sentence in them that I hadn't considered before or helped me look at my situation in a different light. And Tamanna, your answer made me almost cry (in a good way!!); thank you.
posted by unicorn chaser at 4:19 AM on August 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

I spent five years, no less than five hours a day either writing or thinking about writing about something that could easily be considered a boutique subject - public radio. I don't know why I was so totally obsessed with getting what was inside me about it, out. It was an update to books that had, I thought, explored the topic from the periphery of technical insiders or those long-timers with lots of affection but not really from the standpoint of listeners or donors who had no idea what was really happening inside the stations and networks of NPR, PRI, APM and MPR. I was very happy with the result. But more than that, it gives me an huge sense of accomplishment every time I look at it, open it, read it. I hold this tangible in my hand and know what it took to turn it from a thought to a thing. It has some good reviews and was regarded highly by people in the industry. It didn't sell wildly but it sold. It helped establish me as somewhat of an authority. If I have a question, I can go to my own book. And that, I think this is the most important part. It tells me I can do practically anything I set my mind to with the professionalism I'd obliquely thought was only possible from other people. I am one of those people now.
posted by CollectiveMind at 12:41 PM on August 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Good luck and don't devalue yourself or your work/play. There are plenty of people around to pile on about how what you do isn't this or that. Don't help them break you down. Leave them behind. If you need more inspiration than is already here, consider this famous quote by Teddy Roosevelt about people who follow their own path.
posted by CollectiveMind at 12:59 PM on August 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

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