If you’re a published author, even if you’re a multi-published author, even if you’re making a living off writing, there’s a truth all writers share from beginner to pro: the truth that not everything that flows from your fingertips will, or should, end up being for sale. That is, not everything you write is going to be publishable.
Some of it will merely be practice, some will be experimentation, some will be failed attempts. No matter where you are on the timeline of being an author, it can be frustrating. It’s hard to put a lot of time and work into something that you have to throw out or tuck away in the hopes it will one day flourish or fit into something else. It’s even harder, I think, when you become successful, because there’s a real anxiety to keep producing, keep proving yourself, keep putting out a product for consumption. If you have a bunch of books published and you write a bad one that you have to scrap, it feels like a lot of time, money, and achievement just went down the drain.
This of course begs the question: when you’ve been writing for a long time, and you’re trying to (or have) made a career of it, can you still write for pleasure? That’s not to say writing isn’t a pleasure, or that the books you write for publication don’t give you joy. But at some point you start to think about things like an audience and reader demographics. Who are you writing the story for, and who will buy it? This can stifle creativity and give you a whole new set of worries if you think too much about it, and of course it’s always there in the back of your mind. Will my readers like this? Will an agent like this? Will it sell? Does it fit with the zeitgeist of my genre?
At this stage, does it feel like a waste of time to write some self-indulgent romp that will probably never see the light of day and you have no idea who to market it to even if it did? With the rise of self-publishing, it’s a little easier. Niche markets and experimental genres can more readily find their way into the hands of readers who want them. But it may be hard to step away from what sells to “what a few people will buy.” At some point in a writer’s career you start to think both strategically and creatively, which can turn into a hinderance.
I think it’s important to flex your creative muscles in whatever direction they want to go, and it can open you up to other things, but it’s also difficult and frightening when you’re worried about carving out a spot in the writing world. It’s sad to think that your fun, on the side writing might be taking time away from your ‘real’ writing and could hurt your career. Success gives you a whole new set of worries you weren’t even thinking about when you first started writing. At some point your concern will turn from writing something good to writing the correct thing.
What do you think? Is it hard to play around once you find yourself writing for an audience? Is there a way to do both? Or did I just give you a brand new anxiety? (Sorry!)