There’s an old, well-worn maxim that is often quoted in ethics discussions; it applies equally well to us writers: Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
The problem that faces writers and would- be writers in the 21st century is that it is actually possible to publish every bit of genius and garbage that we produce. And it needs to be said that we all produce some garbage, but only a few produce works of genius. Most of us inhabit that place somewhere between those two extremes in our usual writing. So we need to make some decisions. How do we decide what to publish (since writers no longer need anyone’s permission: read publisher), and what should been seen by our eyes only?
After almost a quarter of a century of publishing experience – most via traditional publishers, recent indie experience topped up by more the one unsuccessful partnership with an agent – here I offer you my five sad truths:
1. Not everything you write is or even should be publishable. Discerning the difference between the publishable and the unpublishable takes honest and active scrutiny and a capacity to self-censor so to speak.
2. It is very liberating to know that what you are writing may be for your eyes only. Think about it: you have the luxury of time to write, and maybe it will be something that you’ll share with the world. Knowing that it doesn’t have to be shared can free you up to write either better or worse than your norm. It doesn’t matter.
3. Writing what writing teacher Natalie Goldberg refers to as the worst rubbish can actually act as writing practice. Just as a concert pianist does not normally have an audience for a practice session, you don’t need (nor should you have) an audience for every word that makes it onto paper or computer screen.
4. If you absolutely need someone to read everything you write, get yourself a beta reader group. Their feedback will almost certainly tame your desire to publish every word, but only if you choose readers who are not personal friends.
5. If you insist on publishing every word that comes into your head, start a blog. And take pity on the rest of the world by keeping it private.
The truth is that there are far too many poorly written indie books out there, and this makes it harder for the fantastic indie writers to find their legitimate voice. At the very least, vow to never publish anything that is not edited by someone other than you! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve argued with editors, but in the end their input has invariably improved the writing. And this goes for both my traditionally and independently published books.
And just like dancers need to warm up before a performance, make sure that you have some kind of a writing journal – for your eyes only – that is the repository for those warm-up bits.
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