It’s an interesting question, that: “Should I keep writing?”

Asked of me recently, I found there’s no easy answer. Primarily because that’s a pretty loaded question. There’s a lot behind it.

“Is my writing worthwhile?”
“Is my writing any good?”
“Is my writing publishable?”

To find an answer to that question, more questions must be asked.

“Why are you writing?”
“What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?”
“Who are you writing for?”

It’s important to note that writing and publishing are two different things. The old adage that you should write for yourself, the trope that you should write the book you want to read—those are both true. Each is a good impetus, a solid reason for writing. Most of us write because we believe we have something to say. We hope that others will find what we have to say equally compelling.

When we’re publishing our work, however, the focus shifts from ourselves to our readers. That’s because manuscripts are for writers while books are for readers. Publishers want to publish good writing, of course. That’s a given. But publishers are in the business of publishing books that will sell—i.e., books that readers will buy.

That’s not to say that you should approach a writing project solely with sales figures and dollar signs in mind (unless, perhaps, you’re a freelance writer or otherwise a writer for hire, which is awholenother ball o’ wax). You might keep those numbers in the back of your head—way far back in the recesses of your mind—but they shouldn’t necessarily be your primary focus. Because before you can ever get to the point of publishing and having your book in your hand and tracking sales and refreshing Amazon every eight minutes so you can see how your book is ranking, you have to, obviously, write a good manuscript.

It’s a balancing act, no doubt. Few of us write hoping that no one will ever read our work. We writers want to be published, even if it means connecting with only a handful of readers. But I’m not sure that getting published and selling books should be any writer’s primary impetus in putting together a good manuscript. Your primary impetus should be telling a good story, saying what you need to say as best you can say it.

Should you keep writing?
Why not? If you love writing, if you feel like you have something to say, if you can find the words to put it down on paper, then by all means, keep writing.

But if your real question is “Is my writing worthwhile?” or “Is my writing publishable?” well, then, that’s something else. If you’re asking that question, you’ve moved beyond writing for yourself to wanting your work to speak to other people. If that’s really your question, then it might well be time to work with an editor or a writers group and get some feedback. Real feedback. Not praise from your spouse or your mother or your best friend. Qualitative feedback that assesses things like voice, tone, flow, structure, pacing, clarity; narrative arc, plot development, character development, and dialogue if you’re writing fiction; accessibility, authority, reliability, utility, etc., if you’re writing nonfiction.

So before you torture yourself wondering whether you should keep working on that manuscript you started during NaNoWriMo, ask yourself why you’re writing. Ask yourself what you hope to do with your writing. Ask yourself if your goal is to be published or if it’s enough for you to simply finish your manuscript. Because, ultimately, only you can decide whether you should keep writing.

December 1, 2017

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
—W. Somerset Maugham



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