If You Knew You Weren’t Going to be Published, Would You Still Write?

If you thought you were never going to be published, would you still do what you do?

One thing I’ve noticed in the process of self-producing and self-releasing my album is how much the landscape has changed. Gone is the day when artists sat around waiting for the agent or the publisher or the record company to call. Instead, we now have the ability to do it for ourselves. Now this is not to suggest that everyone should run out and start self-publishing, forgetting about the major publishing houses. But, simply to point out that there are other options available to us that weren’t there as little as 5 or 10 years ago. Without social media and the internet, I wouldn’t have been able to release my album because it wouldn’t have been able to reach a global audience in the way that it has. But these tools are there – not just to get us published or to get our CDs on the shelf – they’re there to help our work find an audience. And, after all, at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about.

After all, there is the dreaded fact that we may not be published – at least, not by one of the majors. So, this begs the question, why do it at all? The short answer is, it’s not just about publication. You could say you work towards publication, but this brings up another interesting question: how much do you work towards publication or how much do you just work towards the completion of the project? At the end of the day, I think, you’re just inspired to write.

As a kid, I was always writing; stories, comics, novels that ran the length of a 120-page copybook. The, I discovered songwriting. From the age of about fifteen or sixteen, to the age of about twenty-five, that’s all I did. I wrote the bones of about 150 songs. Then I started to think seriously about writing a novel.

And how much of all that songwriting or novel writing was done with an eye to it seeing the light of day? Of course, that’s always at the back of your mind. But, certainly with the songs, I don’t think I thought about it at the moment of writing. I just wanted to write songs and then I wanted to write better songs. And I wanted to say something, to wrestle with whatever was going on in my head. And I think that’s true of the novels as well.

Maybe that’s how we need to think about it. Write because you want to write, sing because you want to sing. The tools are there now to get your writing or your music or your art out to a wider audience than ever before. And if along the way, the big publishing house or record company signs you, then happy days. But it certainly won’t be the be-all and end-all.

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21 thoughts on “If You Knew You Weren’t Going to be Published, Would You Still Write?

  1. When I was a teenager, I would write stories for my friends, just because they liked the stories. I never thought much then about being published. I’m sure I’d still write just to make someone smile.

  2. You’ve caught it right there, I write to write, that’s it. I write because I must. I write because it is what I “should” do, any audience or recognition that comes is a bonus but I write because I must. Ars Gratia Artis!!!

  3. I didn’t come to writing until I was 40! Now it’s my life line. I couldn’t imagine not writing but lately I’ve felt a real need to be published. But not being in print won’t stop me.

  4. Hi, Derek. I have a lot of stories to tell, but not the time. I saw the first novel completed after nearly twenty years because I didn’t want to have any regrets. I wrote the second one (I suppose I should admit that the sequel wrote itself) just to make certain that I still could. If these didn’t do well, then I might very well give it up, but only because I have to push so hard w/ the 11 hr day job. I’d like to say that I have to write my stories, whether anyone read them or not. Sometimes we need at least a little payoff…


    1. I write because I love it and need it it. I also keep in the back of my mind that there are so many excellent artists, writers included, that were not appreciated until after their death. I’ll just keep happily writing and see what happens….

  5. Derek: I agree there’s always a tension between the writer and the author inside you. The writer simply wants to communicate, to tell a story. The author wants that story to be loved and adored. Maybe it’s big love and you’re an overnight sensation. Or maybe, as in my case, it’s small love: having a strong base of regional fans who like what I write. Either way, we gotta keep putting fingers to keyboard despite the level of success because the stories won’t be still until they are born.

  6. Great post, Derek. We’re entering an age of creative freedom and experimentation. People devoted to their craft, who not only write but discipline themselves to write well, will thrive.

  7. This is such an interesting post for me to read right now. When I used to write “just to write,” I couldn’t stop myself. Now that I’m writing with an eye to seeking publication, it’s work. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a difference I’ve noticed this past year.

    My Sig O just put out an ambient space music album as an indie (discmakers -> CD Baby -> the typical distribution channels). He doesn’t expect to make a living composing and producing music, but he loves the opportunities the internet has brought to musicians. It’s exciting for him. 🙂

    Good luck to you in both your writing and musical endeavors, Derek! 😀

    1. Thanks Tracy. I used the same distribution for my album. And as you say, it’s not going to make me a millionaire but I love the fact that it’s out there 🙂

  8. I started writing to fill a void in my day. I soon got lost in the magic of it. Recently, I’ve been caught up in a volunteer project, opening an animal shelter in my county, and don’t have a moment to write. But I know I will soon be back at it, one can’t go for too long without jotting down a thought here or an anecdote there. A long way to saying: yes.

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