Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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  Writing Advice by Mette Ivie Harrison
September 2017

Write for Yourself

If there is a single principle of writing I believe in, it is that every writer needs to write first for themselves. I know that there’s a culture in the writing conference world that will seduce you into thinking that if you’re not being published and therefore approved of by the “important people,” you’re not a real writer, but I urge writers to resist this mode of thinking.

Yes, if you want to make a career out of writing, you have to be published because you need to be paid. But if you want to make writing a way of life, a way of seeing the world, a way of understanding yourself and others, write for yourself.

If you want to remain sane in the publishing world where only your sales numbers matter, write for yourself.

If you want to keep getting better at writing, write for yourself.

If you want to love writing even when the pressure is on, write for yourself.

If you want to keep reinventing yourself as an author, write for yourself.

If you want to fight back against the idea that you are owned by your readers, by your editor, by your agent, by your publisher, write for yourself.

If you want to be able to keep writing even when you get rejected over and over again, write for yourself.

If you want to save a corner of the world so that it is your place of refuge, write for yourself.

If you want to feel successful no matter what your reviews look like, write for yourself.

I’m not saying you have to write mostly for yourself (though I do). I’m not saying you should only publish a fraction of your writing (though this is also true for me). I’m just saying that the only way to continue writing authentically, to always come to writing with your best creative ideas, is to write for yourself. You can write for a publisher and for yourself (though I find this difficult at times). But you must find some way to reserve something for yourself.

I always have a project that is just for me. I don’t talk about this project on social media (except sometimes to vaguely tease about it). I don’t share the idea with my agent or editors. Maybe I’m a bit superstitious that if I get feedback too early, it will steal energy from the book. Maybe I’m afraid that I won’t write it if they say they don’t get it. But it isn’t for them. It’s for me.

It may sound weird, but I need a special project just for myself even more when I’m on deadline. It’s an escape from the pressure of producing a novel to someone else’s specification. It lets me feel like I’m not a sell-out and like I can still write whatever I want, even if it has to be “over here.”

The biggest successes in my life have been two novels that were just plain weird: The Princess and the Hound, which is a very odd romance and a retelling of a fairy tale that never was, and The Bishop’s Wife, which my agent told me not to write because no one cared about “Mormon stuff.” They worked because I had the courage to write books that I loved, that worked for me, and it turned out that they worked for other people, too, maybe precisely because they were different and certain kinds of readers are always looking for novelty, but also because the weird characters in them are so human, and that humanity draws readers in.

Writing for myself has also meant that I write bits and pieces. For a while, I’d write about writing and then had so much stuff I didn’t know what to do with it. So I started writing these columns. Then I wrote about my thoughts on Mormonism until I started looking for a place for those pieces, which I found on Huffington. If you’re always looking for the payoff, you may not be having fun, and that will show. You may also not be taking the risks you need to take to move your writing to the next level.

Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison

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