Who Do We Write For?
A number of years ago, I had gotten myself into a state of mind—partially fueled by frustration at being turned down by a lot of magazines and publishers—where I decided I didn't need a big audience for my writing. I decide that when I wrote something that I liked and shared it with a friend, and the friend appreciated it, that was satisfaction enough. Why did I need to beat my head against the wall trying to get my work in front of a larger audience?
One day, I shared this feeling with Jay, a good friend of mine who is an avid reader and an occasional writer, himself. I was proud of how enlightened I'd become, unattached to the ego drive for success, free from the demands of trying to get published. I expected him to say that it was wonderful I'd gotten myself into this state of mind about writing.
But he surprised me.
"That's great," Jay said. "If you're really satisfied just closing the loop that way, that's good. But here's a thought. When you read a writer whose work you really like, aren't you glad that he went to the trouble to get his work published?"
Jay has a real talent for seeing things from an unusual perspective, and this was one that had never occurred to me. Did I really want to write just for myself and a couple other people? Didn't my whole desire to write stem from both the pleasure I took in writing and from my desire to communicate what I thought and felt about human life?
Now, it may seem the height of ego to think that the world is sitting out there waiting to hear what I have to say, that I shouldn't deprive them of my perspective on life. But I don't think that was what Jay was saying. I think he was asking me, "Why do you write if you don't want to communicate with other people, if you don't think you have something to say that is worth reading?"
What he was saying (without saying it) was that I was being selfish, that it really wasn't up to me to decide if what I wrote was worth reading—that was up to those who read it. But if nobody had the chance to read it, how would they ever know if what I was writing was worth their time?
He was saying that if I had any belief at all in what I was trying to communicate, I had to put in the work to try to get it out into the world, in the hope that more than one person would feel grateful that I'd done that, because they were moved or inspired or just entertained by what I'd written.
Since then, I've been much more willing to work at trying to get published. Now it just seems like part of the equation: writing + publication = communication. And that is why I write, to communicate. I have no idea who I will be communicating with. I just have to trust that they're out there.
Lawrence Kessenich has written in virtually every genre, was a professional editor at Houghton Mifflin in Boston for 10 years, and