Creativity vs. the Ego (Or, the Value of Unpublishable Stories)

Why are you writing?

It’s a question almost as vast and confusing as the dreaded, “What are you writing?”

Why we write… We write for ourselves. We write for others. We write to have fun. We write to pay the bills. We write for fame and glory. We write in search of hope and justice and meaning.

So many reasons, each as valid as the next. It can get confusing to try to sort through the variety to find a central motivation. For many of us, the reasons we started writing or making up stories—perhaps as far back as our childhoods—have become enmeshed within our life practices. We write now because that is how we have learned to express ourselves, to share the insights and symbols we believe have value, to scratch a creative itch we don’t always contemplate so long as it stays scratched.

That creative itch goes very deep indeed. It represents life’s ineffable questions and our driving compulsion to find answers however abstract. As my new favorite quote from Cynthia Ozick says:

[Writing is] a kind of hallucinatory madness. You will do it no matter what. You can’t not do it.

That truth is almost inescapable for most of us. Even when we’d very much rather not write—or even not be a writer—something keeps bringing us back to the page and the words. Still, the purity of that compulsion can get muddied by the many other motives and goals to which it gives birth.

Often, these other goals—publication, for example—can seem so worthy in their own right they take over. We forget the reason we’re writing really isn’t “to be published.” We forget that’s another thing entirely. When we forget that, we’re also inclined to forget that the worth of what we write and the time we spend writing it cannot be judged by anything so neat as “publication.”

Creativity vs. the Ego

The ego has staked out a big plantation in the land of our creativity. From childhood onward, so much of our creativity is related to our identity and therefore our self-worth. Whether Mom and Dad liked our finger paintings may give us a huge boost of confidence—or not—in the art we make later in life.

The ego, however vital and useful, has a way of taking over the show. It’s so easy for our art to become a servant of our ego, rather than the other way around. We want the world to tell us our writing is clever, brilliant, life-changing, un-put-down-able. When we receive the praise, we purr. When we don’t, we sometimes go so far as to give up altogether.

Either way, when creativity serves the ego, we often get confused about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what we are really getting out of it.

I’ve been blessed to spend the last three months reading Julia Cameron’s incredibly elegant and poignant classic The Artist’s Way. The entire book is about creating for ourselves. She writes:

…if I have a poem to write, I need to write that poem—whether it will sell or not.

That’s a hard pill to swallow—especially if you’re a professional writer with obligations to fulfill. But even if your initial response is resistance, I’ll bet you can also find at least a spark of begrudging relief too.

As I’ve occasionally written about throughout the past year, writing has been really hard for me lately. Partly, that’s been due to some personal crises and growth. But largely, it’s  been due to the fact that I had this genius idea to turn my standalone portal fantasy Dreamlander into a trilogy. Never mind that writing sequels and series is uncharted territory for me, there’s also the little fact that this story was never intended to be more what it was. [Insert appropriate *what was I thinking?!* meme.]

I’m not yet giving up on the project, but I am having to contemplate the fact that I may not, at this time, be able to finish the series in a way that’s worthy of publication. If that turns out to be true, there’s a part of me that is tremendously disappointed at having “wasted” four years.

I think, however, that Cameron would want me to ask if those years were really wasted after all. In a morning journaling session after reading her book, I found myself having to recognize how much of a driving force my ego is in my creativity:

As I struggle to turn my Dreamlander sequels into stories of true form and depth—stories that are good enough to publish and share—and as a great part of me doubts that this may be possible—I find myself realizing the surprising weight of my ego pressuring me to calculate the worth of the work based solely on the accuracy of its storyform and the potential for its impact to not just touch a reader’s life but to receive his or her acclaim.

I say routinely that I write for myself and that the process of these stories, even if that’s all there is, is worth it. But at some level I don’t really believe that. The time and the lessons may not have been strictly wasted; but how much better to have gained the lessons through time spent on a fruitful project that could have been brought full-term with grace and control?

But that—I see suddenly with shocking clarity—is ego talk.

The story is for me. The creation is for me. If it is a misshapen child, I need love it no less. If I have poured my passion and my fury and my desperate hope into it—and they have burned so hot that they have melted straight through all my current grasp of the craft that tries to contain them—surely, that is a sign of something greater rather than something weaker.

Do I judge the worth of my work on whether it is shapely, whether it is pleasing to others, whether it earns the lofty distinction of “making a difference”?

The work is the worth—because I am the work. My whole life is the work. To judge the worth of that on the satisfaction of others, who are not me, or the craving for the power and control that would allow me some hand in shaping the world—that is the cry of the ego. That is not the heart of the work. The ego is not my judge.

6 Beliefs to Foster Creativity and Growth

I write this post with something of a bitter taste in my mouth. As I acknowledged in the journal entry, I don’t really like the idea that I should see an unpublishable story as worthwhile in its own right. (My ego is currently sitting in the corner of my brain, arms crossed, looking very huffy.) Honestly, I don’t think many of us really do.

For almost all writers, the goal is to publish. It is a worthwhile goal. We see it as a way to fulfill our dreams, to earn a living doing something we love, to live an impactful life (and also, let’s be honest, to be rich and famous, beloved and acclaimed). It’s hard to refute this in a global writing community that is predominantly focused on commercial appeal. It would seem everyone judges creativity by its net worth.

But as individuals, we don’t have to. Nothing is ever wasted. I believe that even if I decide not to publish these sequels to Dreamlander, the lessons I have learned as a writer and a person (and they have been manifold) have been life-changing.

My encouragement to you (and me) is to remember that the true worth of creativity—as a mirror of life itself—is in the journey much more than the destination. Joseph Chilton Pearce writes:

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

Sometimes that wrongness can be as simple as writing something magnificent… that we can’t publish.

Some of you reading this are writing projects right now that you fear (perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly) will never go farther than your desk. Some of you are writing projects you already know, deep down, aren’t going to fly free in the world. Some of you are writing projects that were always and ever intended only for yourself. And some of you are writing projects that are going to make it off the launch pad, maybe even all the way up to rattle the stars.

Whichever story is yours, the distinction doesn’t matter right now. Right now, as you’re writing, this story is yours. Here are six affirmations to keep in mind whenever you find yourself judging your writing and yourself too harshly.

1. Believe the Act of Writing Has Worth in Itself

The struggle is the glory. Or as Brenda Ueland says:

Why should we use our creative power…? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money.

2. Believe Every Story You Write (Even the Unpublishable Ones) Teaches You About Yourself and Your Life

Picasso said (I’m shamelessly stealing quotes from those Cameron curated):

Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.

3. Believe Every Story You Write Teaches You How to Write Something Better Next Time

I’ve written before about the value of “lost” novels. Failures are only failures when we give them that distinction.

4. Believe Your “Failures” Are Less About Your Lack of Skill and More About Your Great and Ambitious Potential

We always intend to write something better than what actually shows up on the page. Always. With some stories, the gap between our vision and our current level of skill is more noticeable than with other stories. But the fact that we can dream up something so tremendous—even if we don’t yet know how to get it out of our minds and into reality—doesn’t signify failure.

5. Believe That if You Love Your Story, It Doesn’t Matter if Anyone Else Does

This one is so hard—but so important, I believe. If I write something that helps me—in any measure—that thing has worth. I’ve been compelled to set stories aside before, but they are still my children just as much as the published novels—perhaps even more so, since they are mine alone, to be cherished with a fondness unadulterated by anyone else’s opinion or experience.

6. Believe You Are Writing What You’re Supposed to Be Writing—Where It Goes From Here Is Not the Most Important Thing

Not every story deserves publication. Being able to acknowledge when a story doesn’t measure up to a reading audience’s standards is an important instinct for writers to develop. But just because a story doesn’t deserve to be published does not mean it doesn’t deserve to be written. Write what you love. Write what you’re passionate about. Write what makes you curious, what gives you hope, what helps you seek justice. Write to the ragged limit of your skills. Or as Andre Gide says, in one final quote:

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.

***

So here’s to stories that are amazing and perfect, well-formed and publishable. We all like those. But here, too, is to stories that are the precious, malformed byproducts of our growing pains. May we know the difference, and may we see the worth in each, so that we may count our hours at the desk in the light of our triumphs rather than our failures.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How do you feel about the stories you’ve decided aren’t “good enough” to publish? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Great post as always, Katie! Lately I’ve found myself overemphasizing publication instead of, you know, writing. So this was a good reminder that it’s all worth it ☺️

  2. Another way to put it is that a writer is selling his/her vision of the world and applying for your empathy.

    Appropriate awareness of this presumption, as well as consideration for the reader are due.

  3. Thank your for the article. It’s very insightful. Just what I needed to hear as a beginning blogger.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, in some ways this is even more applicable to blogging, versus writing novels, since publication and feedback happen on such a swifter timeline.

  4. Gina Baker says

    Lovely post, thank you 🙂

  5. I’ve gotten so frustrated in the past when I can’t finish things, but that has always been a reflection on myself. I have very rarely seen it as a problem with the story. I’ve written myself into many a corner and not known how to get out. Of course, now that I’ve discovered your blog and have learned how to make good stories work, I have been able to stick with my current WIP all the way to a second draft which is brand new territory for me and hoo boy! It has opened up a HUGE can of ego in some ways, because there is no giving up on this one. Even if it takes a decade to finish it and polish it to the point where I feel ready to seek out a publisher. But the way I deal with hubris is to remember that this is not my story at all. These characters are more real to me than the people I actually know (probably because I’m inside their heads) and I feel duty bound to put their lives down on the page. Plus, it helps to have a really compelling antagonist who will put a knife to your throat if you don’t get his part of the story right. Keeps you humble 😉
    In the spirit of sharing quotes, I’ll offer you the one that has helped me the most when writing, and in life in general:
    “Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a part of it.” —William Ritter

  6. This is excellent advice. I spent a year writing a novel set in Tolkien’s universe to answer a question about a person mentioned in one line of dialog who lived long before the events of the trilogy: who was she? I knew the work could go nowhere, given the tight copyright on Tolkien’s universe, so it was only for me. Hard, knowing only a couple of my writer friends would ever see it. But I learned bunches, and felt I had done the character justice.

    • Thea T. Kelley says

      Who is she, nwjn? Just curious. 🙂 I empathize with your obsession.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s funny how sometimes it’s a relief to think we’re writing only for ourselves–and other times it’s a burden. :p

  7. This post is an exact replication of myself! I want to believe that I write for myself, but a small part can’t help but to base the value of my writing on what others think. The sci-fi series I’m working on has been in my head for years. I can’t write anything else. It is a big part of who I am. So if other people don’t like it, they don’t like me. I know this isn’t true, but I can’t help but feel this way sometimes–especially when I get negative feedback. Most of the six beliefs you mentioned are things I’ve thought about before. I will bookmark this post so that I don’t forget them and so that I keep writing regardless of what others think. Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I always say I write first and foremost for myself, but in truth I would care much less about perfect story form and technique if it were just for me. I suppose writing is really about finding that balance between writing *because* of ourselves but *for* others.

  8. What a thought provoking post. Thank you for writing it. You have given me a lot of food for thought.

  9. Cristen Edwards says

    This post has given me a lot to think about. Right now I have so many stories going that none of mine are worth publishing. So I sort of just gave up on them. I realize now that they need to finished even if they aren’t going to be published. Although publishing is my goal.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There’s a time and a place for moving on from certain stories. But in general I’m a proponent of finishing stories–at least bringing them to some sense of closure. Leaving stories unfinished–even those that will never be seen–can make it harder to believe we’ll finish good stories in the future.

  10. Stephen Rayfield says

    An amazing and timely article. It differently provided food for thought. I am struggling with a co-writer who brings my dreary words to an amazing level. So i see much of this struggle in your kind words.
    Thank you for sharing these insights.

  11. Heather L. Weatherspoon says

    My new favorite quote: “The work is the worth—because I am the work. My whole life is the work.”

    I understand those words in every way possible. Writing has saved me, and it continues to do so every day. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  12. Very sorry to hear of your struggles. I know you will come out on top, though.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah well, every time my ego thinks I’ve got this writing thing all figured out, reality comes along and taps me on the shoulder. 😉

  13. Being a writer has been so confusing, balancing the personal, artistic sense with the product-based business aspect, loving the brilliant idea in my head, taming it with structure and ground rules, then doubting that I know what I’m doing. And all the do’s and don’t’s of being a writer…I’ve got three stories in three different states of incompleteness that I keep going back to, and at this point I feel like I’m moving along an inch at a time. And what have I to show for it? That’s the difficult part. I dread people asking me what I’m working on, or what I do, when I have little to show them. It’s disheartening, especially when so many writers publish every year. What am I doing wrong? Why don’t I get how to do this? Every once in a while I think about why I started writing this story, I remember the idea popping into my mind, and then the feeling it brought, and I like it. But that doesn’t seem to be enough…so says ego?? I suppose that’s the trap for me. I’ve written the six affirmations on a notepad so I can see them daily and remember why I started all of this.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Everything you’ve written here is relatable to me right now with this current story I’m working on. So, first of all, know you’re not alone. Second, know you’re also not alone in feeling the commercial pressure to perform with speed and quantity. To that end, you might find this post encouraging: How to Write Faster (and Why Maybe You Shouldn’t).

  14. Rick Buck says

    Bless you, Katie, for your honesty and the timeliness of your message! I’ve been struggling with this very thing for the last few weeks. My retirement check leaves me needing supplemental income (or new Ramen noodle recipes), but I’ve been investing my time writing a novel that might never see the light of day. I know I’m a good writer (with previous paychecks to back my ego on that claim), but I don’t have that kind of faith in my storytelling. Yet, this post has helped me to see this is something I have to do, regardless of Ramen noodles dominating my grocery list. I owe you a debt of gratitude for showing me that!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If you haven’t read Artist’s Way, I’ll recommend it again. I think you’d find it very encouraging right now.

  15. So much to think about. The first thing that crossed my mind was an article I read on the internet, probably a year ago or so. The authors entire premise was that life ends at 70. According to him, nothing of consequence could happen in a person’s life after that age. I was dumbfounded, not only because I could think of many examples of people who have accomplished very significant things after their seventieth year but also because I was in the midst of my seventieth decade. This means that my dream of being a writer that had been with me for over sixty years was now something that could be fulfilled. I dabbled in writing in starts and spurts within the life that seemed to carry me along with it but I was now feeling the freedom to indulge my creative impulses.

    The next thing was a belief that I have that we live in an age where ego seems to be particularly strong. So many people seem to conclude that what they believe has to be absolutely correct and there’s something fundamentally wrong with anyone who doesn’t agree with them. I’m probably wrong about that, but at least I can admit it.

    I am deep into the first draft of a story that I love writing. I feel that everything is working out as it should. But, as I was explaining to a friend a few days ago, it doesn’t matter if anyone else ever likes it, I am having a wonderful time writing it. There are times when I actually attach a great deal of weight to this idea, but wouldn’t it be great if it became a real book one day and other people love it too.

    Thanks for an excellent article.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good heavens. I couldn’t disagree with that premise (of life ending at 70) more. Something I’m working on right now (and hope to blog about soon) is the primary archetypal character arcs we see in all “3 Acts” of life. In so many ways, modern society seems to have forgotten all about the later life arcs–and how crucial they are not just in themselves but in guiding the arcs of those in the First and Second Acts.

  16. So very true! I paint and draw as a form of therapy. If a painting sells or wins a prize at a show doesn’t matter. I post my painting process on social media to inspire other artists out there and to show people how a painting comes to be. I receive many comments about how enjoyable it is to watch me paint. That, to me, is worth more than money or a prize! It’s the same with writing, although there is more pressure out there by fellow writers to be published. Other writers don’t consider you a success unless you are published with a big trad publisher. That pressure makes me not want to write anymore. Sad, but true! You inspire me to continue no matter what.

  17. Great post. Thank you.

  18. Thea T. Kelley says

    I’m now in revisions on my first novel ever, and I absolutely want to publish it, even though I seem to have unknowingly created a project that has limited commercial prospects (for 2 reasons: it’s an adult novel with a child protagonist, and it’s set in 1970). But I will publish it myself if I have to, because it’s good, and because I didn’t just write it for myself, I wrote it to be read, to be experienced, to be a contribution to the world of stories.

    Is that risky? If I self-publish and it doesn’t sell much, is that bad publicity? (Is there such a thing?) Will the public (readers, agents, etc.) hold it against me that I published a book with little commercial potential? Will they judge me on my poor business sense, or my good writing?

    • Thea T. Kelley says

      P.S. That’s not a rhetorical question. I actually would like to know what y’all think.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s a tricky question. Conventional wisdom says agents will at least consider the track record of any previous books. But I don’t think poor self-publishing sales are the kiss of death in traditional publishing by any means.

  19. Thea T. Kelley says

    And how do we define “good enough”? Good enough to get a publishing deal is one thing. Good enough to give X number of readers a worthwhile experience is another. Good enough to maintain our existing reputation may be a valid definition, if one has a reputation already. I often wonder what this person or that person means by “good enough.”

  20. Coincidentally a member of my writing class a couple of weeks ago said the same thing, write for yourself. As any writer knows the writing process is just plain hard especially when you try to follow all those rules/guidelines laid down by all those authors of craft articles and books. Then if that is not bad enough if you’re lucky enough to get to the editing and publishing phase you’re faced with huge costs with little expectation of a return on your financial investment. This is where I am now and I don’t mind telling anyone who will listen, it is daunting.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I often refer back to Anne Lamott’s quote: “Being published isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Writing is.”⁣ 🙂

  21. Weirdly, I’m feeling called out by this blog post, as this is the exact argument I’ve been having with myself the past year (to keep writing, marketability be damned). I had this conversation with another writer friend this morning, and it was last night’s dinner table discussion at home.

    I’m not sure how many of the 20’ish books on my to-be-written list will be marketable. I’d love to believe I can eventually polish them all to that point, but since I’m learning as I go… that’s potentially a pipe-dream.

    Thank you for your candor and authenticity. Some of us have incredibly vicious inner editors who’d love to push us to quit. Mine is currently sitting in the corner having a toddler-worthy meltdown.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      For me, fighting the inner voices always comes down to getting really specific about my motivations. *Why* am writing? Why is it important? Is it really about publication? For some it is; for some it isn’t. Either way, knowing why we’re doing what we’re doing can at least serve to shut up the voices that aren’t pertinent to the moment.

  22. Chris Moore says

    Often I’m overcome by a sense of urgency, a powerful awareness that life is short and time is precious. In my desire to choose well how I spend that time, I am sometimes paralyzed by the fear of choosing poorly. Katie, your blog posts are always helpful, but this one grabbed my soul.

    Thank you for sharing the excerpt from your private journal. One particular paragraph will help me to keep my heart anchored in the right place:

    “The story is for me. The creation is for me. If it is a misshapen child, I need love it no less. If I have poured my passion and my fury and my desperate hope into it—and they have burned so hot that they have melted straight through all my current grasp of the craft that tries to contain them—surely, that is a sign of something greater rather than something weaker.”

    That last sentence is exquisite. Your words offer perspective and hope. Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Often I’m overcome by a sense of urgency, a powerful awareness that life is short and time is precious. In my desire to choose well how I spend that time, I am sometimes paralyzed by the fear of choosing poorly.”

      Ah, I relate to this so much. In fact, thank you for sharing that, because I think it’s helped me refine part of my own fears in relation to these “unpublishable stories.” It’s not the misshapen stories I resent, but the “wasted” time.

  23. Clifford Farris says

    My highest goal every day is to write stories that other people enjoy. If a reader drops a tear, laughs out loud, has a beating heart in anticipation, exhibits emotion, my book is a success.

    A group of beta readers gives me feedback to measure my progress toward this goal. I started my own publishing company, Desert Coyote Press which publishes my novels through Kindle (Amazon) as e-books and trade paperbacks, through Barnes and Noble, through Kobo, and many other sellers of e-books.

    Walking along side my protagonists, secondary characters, and antagonists is a supreme joy. There is nothing else I would rather be doing in all the world, and I have done a lot on all five continents.

    Writing as a retired person gives me more latitude than others as I go travel this authorship road, I send my creations into the world with my
    best wishes and hope they find a comfortable landing, but as far as officially publishing them per se, that is a bottom priority.

    I lack the time and years left for ego.

  24. I needed this today. I’ve been working on a short story since last summer on and off and last week I was able to recieve feedback in a workshop. It wasn’t good…I wondered if maybe I’d lost my ability to write well at all anymore, and what I was doing wrong throughout my process that led me to such difficult feedback. But I need to worry less about what other people think and keep working on the story because I love it. If I really do love this story, I’ll have the jam to keep working and tweaking and polishing. Not for their approval, but for my own creative experience.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Every single time I begin a new story, I feel like an impostor. Every time. Like it was just luck that made my words make sense all the previous times. Like anybody who liked the previous books must clearly have been as deluded as I was. :p But I trust the process. Just keep writing. Sooner or later, we find the way.

  25. John White says

    I read the Artist’s Way several years ago and can’t say it made much impact on me at the time. However, reading this blog post and the thoughts you present suggest I should dig it out of the box and go through it once more. As I struggle with my WIP, I keep telling myself “this will never sell, do better”. What a jackass I’ve been. I’m going to step back 10000 feet tomorrow with a fresh mind and a new lens, and just plot out and write the story that’s inside. As you say, that should be enough…
    Thanks for this.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Artist’s Way is definitely one of those books that can (and probably should) be re-read regularly.

  26. Carl Kjellberg says

    I think that the dilemma that you describe of whether you are writing for yourself or for others is spot on. Anyone with a creative urge I believe feels a sense on constantly swinging from one pole to the other. I guess that the key issue in all of this is where do you find your sense of self worth? If it comes from what others think about what you do then rejection can be crushing. On the other hand there is a need for honest feedback from others for growth. The point I have come to on this is to realize that I am not what I do and that I am unconditionally loved by God who is the reference point on my worth. Yes, I know that for some this is politically incorrect, but I have found that it has helped me personally to move forward in my creative journey.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      So much of the writing life–on both a personal and professional level–is about balance. Holding that tension point is the hardest thing, but when we manage it, it’s definitely that sweet spot that makes you remember why you were doing it all along.

  27. In the end who are we writing for…?

    Thank you for these empowering words, K.M. Exactly what I needed to read.

  28. Ooof this was a stunning, little article. I read the entire thing out loud. It was beautifully written. Well done! Glad I subscribe 🙂

  29. Thank you so much for these deep and true thoughts. I have been in something of a funk about both my current debut and the possibilities of my WIP. I have been finding my way out, but your column names it all so clearly. EGO. Its need for validation and even celebration, when the true experience of celebration is in the soul, in the creative process itself, in receiving the gift of what comes when I simply get out of the way and let it flow.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Flow” is a word I think about a lot. Life–and writing–is sweetest when we’re both balanced within and surrendered to that flow.

  30. I have been writing stories since I was 12 and with only a 38 year hiatus while teaching, the stories continued to flow. Now, literally 35+ novel length stories litter the dark corners of my closet and crowd my hard drive. I never thought to publish because, in the past, the publishing houses were the gatekeepers and I never thought I would get past the gates. Now, with self-publishing (and yes, my typo of self-punishing fits, too) over a million stories are being published a year.

    I always wrote for myself before, it was a form of therapy, I suppose. Four novels are now listed on Amazon with two more almost ready.

    I found your six beliefs highly reassuring and motivating. Hopefully, my ego, never very strong when it comes to my writing, will only help me continue to improve my skills and not muddle things. Thank you for sharing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “self-publishing (and yes, my typo of self-punishing fits, too)”

      That made me laugh so hard. :p

  31. Loved your wordplay about “rattling the stars” – wonderful. I’ve had two short stories win contests and an honorable mention, and I totally agree that as writers, we must and should write for ourselves, first and foremost. That being said, being published gives our minds and souls that tiny bit of affirmation we always need, most writers being insecure one moment and stroking our little egos the next. LOL. I also believe publishing to be a worthwhile incentive in itself if it gets us off our mental backsides and puts words onto the page. The danger is when dollar signs replace those stars in our eyes.

    Caden St. Claire

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think that phrase originates with Treasure Planet: “You’re going to rattle the stars, you are.” My sister and I quote that to each other often.

  32. I have trunk stories that I wouldn’t publish in their current form because I’ve upped my game. But maybe the core of the story is a gem, and worth putting in a better setting where it sparkles and shines.

    Then I have a trunk story that I trunked because it didn’t fit neatly into a genre. I trunked it in 2002, and then in 2009, a new genre came around called “New Adult fiction” that my story would neatly slot into. A story that’s “unmarketable” now may become so five minutes from now, so don’t waste a minute in despair. Those minutes would be better spent on writing new stories.

    Yet — is there a reason that an author can’t write the equivalent of “B-sides” or the “B-movie”? The songs or movies that aren’t expected to be hits, but may be diverting for a rainy afternoon? Florence & The Machine unapologetically called one song collection “Lungs: The B-sides.” Why shouldn’t writers do the same?

    I want to encourage everyone to write B-stories, published or not. But bring your heart to it, don’t treat them as undeserving of attention to craft. The six points in this post are crucial, because treating the B-story in a slapdash fashion is a great way to corrupt your integrity as a creator. Write them lovingly, and unapologetically, even if you think you can’t publish them right now.

    Use the B-sides to experiment: Maybe you’re not done with the characters from a published story, but you just want to write a “slice of life,” or the story of their courtship, or an “alternate universe” where you explore what would have happened if the heroes zigged instead of zagged. Or explore the parts of the official story left on the cutting room floor. It’s a fun way to exercise the muscles of your craft and imagination.

    Don’t artists spend time drawing hands or noses over and over? Don’t pro basketball players dribble the ball over and over? Well, B-stories are “dribbles” that prepare writers for their “A-game” or “championship novel,” whatever those may be. Post them on your blogs for your true fans. Or publish under a pseudonym: Stephen King / Richard Bachman, Ruth Rendell / Barbara Vine, Agatha Christie / Mary Westmacott, all show that this is a time-honored tradition.

    The stories you write “just for you” may be loved by others, too. One writer wrote a pastoral novella, where the heroine of her trilogy is settling into the amazing new life she and her fiance forged for themselves after all the spaceship battles and sword fights they fought to get to that point. The novella is set in the time gap between two scenes in the epilogue of the third book. As I understand it, it started as a work-of-the-heart the writer initially posted to her blog, then published officially on Amazon after her fans encouraged her. That “B-story” has been a balm to me, and I’m glad she didn’t let thoughts of commercial viability stop her from writing it.

  33. I love this! Looking to buy a copy of ‘The Artists Way’: I think I need it.

  34. Faith Reece says

    Ironically, I’ve been thinking about the value of writing just for myself, without needing the investment of other people, and feeling pretty freed by it, but it’s still affirming and encouraging to read the same from another, especially someone who has changed how I view story.

    I do have to admit, not too long ago, it would have been hard to accept this (and perhaps it will be in the future)- I’ve had all the dreams…and none of the knowledge as to how go about them. Over time, I would learn to let go of projects, or at least put them on the shelf. I learned to break down big projects into smaller parts, and the importance of tackling that next step, even if just beyond it is the “fun stuff”. Then my dad challenged me to write a story of a different tone (and a much shorter length!) than what I usually write. In a month, a rough draft of a 22 page manuscript was done. Another month, and the second draft (which scrapped 20 pages of the original) was done. “We always intend to write something better than what actually shows up on the page” only rung too true in my mind as I finished it. I was afraid to share it with even my dad (who’s the most positive influence in my life), but I was happy I got it done. He’s still trying to find time to read it, but I got a writer’s bite…I had to write something. Not just exercises. Something to get the outline books out again, even though I just put them back on the shelf. It was time for my logic and creativity to work together long-term. And now this project I’m working on…it really reflects why I write.

    That question was answered when I picked up the Writer’s QnA a Day book (thanks for the recommendation in a Writer’s Gift list). It was daunting at first, but I was very satisfied with the answer: I write to organize the messy room that is my mind- to make sense of what I can. And as painful as it can be, the project does just that, and so even if it doesn’t get published, even if not one other soul likes it, (though I hope it is!), it will be remembered fondly by me, as something that came from my soul for my soul. And though I love sharing stories, with the same fondness as a mother, I know that I will probably have to wait until “next time”, but to take peace in that, not frustration.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think there’s so much value in examining our motivations, as in your Writers’ Q&A. Makes me think of Socrates’ “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

  35. It’s perhaps a bit off topic but I believe writing anything will improve your creativity. Creativity is putting together concepts which have never been joined in just that way before. The more concepts you have in your head the more opportunity you possess to be creative. That silly sow of a book you wrote because you needed a new fridge may be the thing you transform into a silk purse later.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree. It doesn’t even have to be writing, come to that. Singing nonsense songs or making up jokes or doing another artform entirely–they’re all beneficial to creativity of any sort.

  36. I loved the 6 beliefs. Overall, I am writing stories that I believe need to be told (to myself first, to my audience second). While I desire my children’s books be published, it is more for them…and not my ego because of the nature of these books (for children on the autism spectrum). And, while I wish the story I mapped out using your books to be published some day, I can definitely see the different roles ego plays in publishing goals.

  37. Tim Carroll says

    Thanks for this post. I had worked on a sci-fi novel for five years and realized last year that it probably wasn’t one that had enough appeal to get published. At first I anguished over thinking it was a waste of time but then realized the many times I had it critiqued, helpful comments friends had shared with me about it, and the many ways I’d rewritten it to make it better had been a tremendous writing lesson for me. This was around the time I bought your books on outlining and structure. These books were timely for me as I’d always been a panster. Their knowledge along with what I’d learned from my five year book writing lesson helped my writing process go much faster and made the structure better. I just finished another book in a little over a year which I’m not sure if it’ll get published but I do feel is a much better book than my last one. Thanks for reaffirming the belief that we always learn new things that make us better as we write and create and they are always worthwhile.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s great! This reminds me, too, that I still cherish the positive remarks received from critique partners and beta readers for stories that never ended up going any farther.

  38. I read The Artist’s Way several years ago and resumed my morning pages over a year ago after receiving intensive and abundant editing/revision from my editor which threw me into a deep funk. I just got my rights reversed on my first two novels, and I may just let them be. I learned so much in writing them, but is revising them where I want to spend my time? May I suggest you watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s TEDD talk on Creativity if you haven’t watched it before. Thanks for this wonderful reminder of the power of The Artist’s Way.

  39. Excellent article, K.M. So many good quotes, including some of your own. Thank you!

  40. Thank you, I can relate and I really needed to hear this today!
    The Artist’s Way has been an amazing companion for more than twenty years and it is still one of the three books I would take with me to the proverbial island 🙂

  41. “Behind all great nations and noble works done in the world there have been noble ideas. An idea is that something which is the very basis of creativity”

  42. Thank you for the timely inspiration. I recently tried to write a blog post, but it came out very confusing. It was frustrating, but I’ll take another whack at it.

  43. The idea that writing just to write is okay- that’s a hard learning curve. I think there’s a lot of trust involved; trust that you don’t HAVE to know the end, only what needs done today. And trust is difficult. I guess that’s where the whole `Lord willing’ ideology comes in. Not just a flippant thing to add on so you’ll look more spiritual, but a bone-deep belief that God knows the future, and it’s okay if I don’t. It’s even okay if my plans fail. I can’t say I’m always there. The worst thing is when I’ve been so excited about my plans that I’ve told everyone and their dog about them and then… they don’t happen and I feel like I’ve let everyone down, and all I want to do is crawl into bed and hide forever- not the most useful response. And there again, a very egocentric one. I think it takes a lot of humility to do something with all your passionate strength and know you might be the only one who EVER knows it was done.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think perhaps the essence of living in the present is trusting that as long as I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing *in each moment*, the future will take care of itself.

  44. M. L. Bull says

    Very good post! It was very relatable I think to most writers. I actually like my “The Six Chosen” fantasy story idea, even though I’d probably never publish it, but I’ve considered writing it anyway just for the fun of it, though I may change some of the villians and other characters a little to those more closely mentioned in the Bible.

    I’m getting to a point of just focusing on purpose with my writing and not worrying too much about how much support I get. I know I’m unique, have some talent, and stories to offer regardless of who might not care or like them. I didn’t start writing because of anybody, and I’m not gonna let anyone in the public cause me to quit either. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      From everything you’ve ever shared in comments here, I think you’re gifted in “writing for the fun of it.” It’s a gift I struggle with sometimes, as per this post. :p

  45. Oh God! This hit home in such a meaningful way. I wrote my first novel in 1967, and I wasn’t a writer. It was a children’s fantasy satire based on what was going on around me. I would get home at night from work, and before going to bed with my wife, hammer out a few pages on a Selectronic typewriter. A local publisher accepted it but we backed out hen the illustrator quadrupled her price. I stil have the galleys. It was written terribly, but the message was important to me.

    Thirty years later, I retired and decided to write. I didn’t need money and started my own business, but in 2009, I published my first novel, which received good reviews. It wasn’t particularly well written, but the publisher cleaned up some of that. It was paranormal based on my curiosity about what was meant by a disembodied spirit. I have written three self-published novels and a memoir since then. The memoir has the best readership and made a little money.

    I’m working on my fifth novel now and determined to make it better than my others. Your books on writing have been useful, plus some excellent alpha and beta readers. Of course, I would like for it to be successful in the market, but more importantly, I have formed a relationship with the characters and theme. At eighty-one, it’s important to continue learning and to maintain an interest in life. Writing gives me that.

    I thank you for your valuable mentorship.

  46. Thank you, thank you, thank you 🙂

  47. I see you’re a fellow fan of Brenda Ueland. If You Want to Write is a masterpiece of inspiration for creatives. Not just writers.

  48. Josh Patrick-Riley says

    Thank you so much for this post. I took notes on so much of it since I want to remember the words written here as much as possible.

  49. Thank you for another helpful article. I think when we write anything its an act of faith. My fear of investing energy into something that might not work sometimes paralyses me into not writing anything whereas I should treat it as a creative journey. I recently heard a famous singer/songwriter being interviewed on the radio and he said he’d had to write 100 songs in order to write 10 that were good enough to feature on his album.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “An act of faith”–I like that, both for its painful truth and its undeniable hope.

  50. Like you, I’ve always said that I write [scifi] for myself, first and foremost, but…

    Reading this very honest post made me realise that it was a lot easier for me to write stories when I didn’t dare call myself a writer, when no one knew I was writing, when I didn’t have to fear the judgement of external readers…

    And yes, it is all about ego. My fiction has received enough positive feedback to stop me throwing in the towel, but lately it’s been so much easier to do my tech writing. I thought that was because I’m better at tech writing than fiction writing, but I now know that the tech writing is easier because a) I get loads of positive feedback and b) it’s my comfort zone. I’ve always been good at teaching. Telling stories? Not so much.

    I guess the big question now is whether I can find my courage again. I still have stories to tell. Maybe I’ll write them and publishing be damned. Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Maybe I’ll write them and publishing be damned.”

      Honestly, I think this is where the best stories come from anyway. I hope you keep writing!

  51. Thanks for these helpful and healthy reminders. Just like in painting, drawing, and panning for gold – you have to slush through a lot a junk to get something good.

  52. Barbara Martinez says

    Believe That if You Love Your Story, It Doesn’t Matter if Anyone Else Does is probably the best advice I’ve ever gotten about writing. This is the kind of advice I’d normally have to pay a co-pay for. Thanks for writing this and everything else you write.

  53. Martin Ross says

    What a fantastically wise article. Loved this and some super quotes. Thank you, Katie.

  54. Phong Lê says

    These have been my favorite articles of yours for quite some time now. It takes tremendous courage to lay your soul bare and make yourself as vulnerable as you have in recent years, so thank you for sharing your personal struggles with us. I do believe your willingness to talk to us on a more intimate level is the biggest reason you have a tighter bond with your readers than I’ve seen from any other writer. For me personally, your words resonate even louder as I find myself I’m knee-deep in the most unproductive period of my writing career.

    Now please allow me to share a story of own, since you strike me as someone who enjoys them.

    In-between being a writer (first as a daydreaming kid bursting with enthusiasm, then later as a grumpy, middle-aged man), I was a software architect. About a year ago on a hike with my former boss, I thanked him for making my time working under him the most creatively fulfilling period of my software career. He almost cried—which is funny to think about, because we got along so poorly early on that we couldn’t be in the same room without getting into a shouting match. Anyway, what happened in a nutshell is that once he learned to trust me enough to leave me alone and never talk to me (this is hardly an exaggeration, lol), I became free to work on whatever tickled my fancy on a day-to-day basis.

    And while a small fraction of that “recreational programming” *did* benefit my actual projects to some extent, by and large it became dormant code that only served to prove that I wasn’t working on the project I was paid to work on.

    But every once in a while, I’d start a new project, only to realize that something I wrote a year prior, with no obvious usefulness at the time, would now cut down the new project’s timeline by half. All because I allowed my mind to explore something for no other reason than curiosity.

    Perhaps most importantly, those “palate cleansers” really helped clear my head of the repetitive drudgery of my actual projects (which weren’t terribly stimulating, intellectually). I derived great satisfaction simply from solving problems for which I hadn’t found solutions elsewhere, even if (or maybe because) they may not have had any concrete application. If nothing else, solving such novel problems in that side work often led me to approach problems in novel ways in my actual projects.

    So what I’m trying to say here is:
    1. You never know when fragments of Dreambreaker might show up in future works.
    2. Giving our brain the space to wander and explore is critical to our personal and professional developments. While working on Dreambreaker, you’ve further developed your mind in ways that may not be evident right this moment, but that will have a measurable impact in the future.
    3. Doing fulfilling/stimulating/challenging work is just as important as doing lucrative work. But more importantly, they are both important in different, and thus complementary, ways. (Although yes, ideally, what’s lucrative would also be fulfilling, but that’s another topic altogether 🤪)

    In other words, when sailing into uncharted territory you’re bound to return with a chestful of hidden treasures.

    I hope you get to publish Dreambreaker and its followup, but above all I wish you peace and happiness. All of us here are rooting for you, even those like me who rarely comment. You have had such a tremendous impact on my writing that not a day goes by when you aren’t in my thoughts through your teachings. From reading comments on your posts, I know the same holds true for a great deal of your readers.

    Be well, and do take good care of yourself.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks very much for sharing this! I agree so much with what you’re saying, but it’s actually very encouraging just to have someone else state it. So thanks! 🙂 I’m already seeing benefits from the Dreamlander sequels, just in helping me work through some new theories I have about archetypal character arcs. Regardless whether the novels get off the ground, I will be sharing the other work sometime soon.

  55. I once spent two years writing stories I knew would never be published. But I had so much fun writing them, and I still have fun reading them now.

  56. Hannah Parry says

    This is a lovely post for me today. Thank you and good luck with your trilogy.

  57. Melissa Chambers says

    I can say number 3 on your list of affirmations is something I know from experience. It’s nice to get a fresh reminder every so often. Thanks for the encouragement!

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