If You Love to Write, But You Don’t Want to Publish, Are You a Really a Writer?
What do you think about that question? How would you answer it?
Sit with your answer for a few seconds while I tell you a short story, and then let’s talk about this.
A few years ago, when my kids were probably in 5th or 6th grade — I home schooled them, but they were part of a charter school, and this school went on a field trip to Catalina Island. I was asked to chaperone, and I agreed. A trip to lovely Catalina Island with my kids would be a treat. I had been an elementary school teacher before I became a mom, so I loved being with kids. This was an easy request to say yes to.
We packed our bags and got on the Catalina Express. That night, I helped kids set up their sleeping bags in their tents before we went to dinner. I supervised them in the evening as they played games and sang songs and brushed their teeth before bed. I got up in the middle of the night to make sure the ones who needed to go to the bathroom went safely. All of this worked smoothly, and I loved every minute of it.
However, the next morning, the activity the counselors had panned was to snorkel in the ocean. I was ready to wave goodbye to the group and wait for them to return while I soaked up the warm sunshine on the beach. But I was told, I had to go with the kids. They needed the chaperones in the water too — just in case. Just in case? In case of what? I freaked out because I couldn’t swim. I could doggy paddle, but I could not swim. What was I going to do? I was obligated to do my duty as a chaperone. So, I put on my wetsuit because the water was freezing and followed the excited group of kids, hoping I would not make a fool of myself.
The kids were amazing. No problem at all. They swam and followed the guide. But I felt so incompetent. Worse, I had this horrible thought that if any child really needed to be rescued, I would not have been able to save them. I felt terrible.
The first thing I did when I got home was enroll in swimming lessons. I took a class at my university, and I’m not kidding, I could not make it to the end of the lane and breathe at the same time when I started. But by the end of the semester, I was swimming quite well. And I realized that I loved swimming. So, I took another class to better develop my skills. Since then, it’s been over ten years now, I swim about three times a week. I work on my strokes and work on my speed. Sometimes I just peacefully swim back and forth, not working on anything, but enjoying the feel of my body cutting through the water.
I took the class to learn to swim so that I would never again feel that I couldn’t save someone’s life in a pool or in the ocean if needed. But I kept swimming because I loved it.
Not once has someone asked me if I planned to get a job as a swimming instructor or a lifeguard, or if I planned to join the Olympics. No one comes up to me and asks, “hey, why are you swimming if you’re not going to become a professional swimmer.”
And yet, the first question a writer gets asked when someone finds out that person is writing a poem or a short shorty or a book is what? Either why are you writing or are you planning to get your story published? Why do they ask that? If I can swim just because I like it and want to become a better swimmer, why can’t a writer write just to become a better writer or for the fun of it?
I did want to get published when I first started writing. But, after a few years of writing and not selling my work, I felt the odd pressure to get published. I felt that if I didn’t get published, I would have wasted all those years of writing. And no one would think I was a real writer. Isn’t that the craziest thing in the world?
In my classrooms on the first day of class, I always as my students if they are writers. Out of 30 people, maybe two or three hands go up. The rest of my students do not think of themselves as writers which is insane because we are all writers. We write emails and letters and notes and texts. We are writers.
I think more people would write if we didn’t have this bizarre idea that only people who want to be published should write. What if it were broadly accepted that when sitting at home with nothing to do, a person could get on their laptop and write a story instead of watching TV or playing a video game? Somewhere along the line, people developed the idea that only experts have the right to write. I find that kind of sad.
When I stared blogging a few weeks ago, I really wanted to reach people who are not professional writers. When I think of blog topics though, I tend to write to people who are writers or who want to be writers. Maybe because subconsciously I realize that people who do not see themselves as writers will not even choose to read a post about writing.
I hope someone will today, and that he or she will say to themselves, hey Julia says it’s okay for me to write even if I never want to be published.
I don’t know how you answered the question in the title, but I hope that you said, “yes, of course, people who don’t want to be published are really writers” because writing like swimming and cooking and any other activity that people enjoy is not reserved for professionals. I am a swimmer, and I am a writer. I just happen to write professionally. You might write for fun or to express your thoughts or feelings, or to work through a difficult experience. Those are all amazing reasons to write!
So, all my non-professional writing friends, if you’re reading this right now, give writing a try, just because.