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Monday, May 30, 2011

Forget About Being Published

Courtesy of asifthebes
One of the great advantages of going to conferences and workshops is that, if you're lucky, they blow your mind away.

Caped CONduit 21 just ended, and it was incredible. CONduit isn't a writing conference, it's a SF and F general convention. But I learned just as much about writing and story as if it had been a conference designed for writers.

Tracy Hickman said something that took my world, spun it upside down and turned it inside out. He said, "Don't seek to be published, seek to be read."

Don't seek to be published, seek to be read.

So simple, and it makes so much sense when you think about it. With advances in technology, anyone with a computer and Internet connection can be published. You might say that it's never been easier to be published than it is now, and I think it's only going to get easier.

That means there's going to be a lot of noise out there. And being heard and noticed is going to be a lot harder and take a little more creativity to achieve.

So many times we writers tend to focus on the wrong things, and getting published is one of those. I'm not putting down the notion of publishing. I seek to be published, and I think it's a great thing--but it should not be the limit of our dreams. Sometimes our vision isn't large enough, and that limits us. We cage ourselves in our own expectations simply because we never think to look up.

The thing about dreams is they're meant to be large. When you sit down at the table of dreams, forget about taking small servings, never snatching the last roll, or taking tiny bites of the pie. Forget about which silverware everyone else is using, and just dig in. Dreams are only as finite as we make them. Daring to dream big doesn't mean there will be less dream for the next person on your left, so don't cheat yourself by taming your dreams. Realistically, you're going to have to work hard--but that's the reality of dreams.

So, if being published isn't what we should be aiming for, what then? I believe the ultimate goal (besides being true to yourself) should be writing something that's worth reading. Something that speaks to people loudly enough, deeply enough, that your words reach out of the page and drown your reader in a sea of thought and perception that they become a part of. Something that will keep them coming back over and over and over again.

Being published is great, being read is better.

I don't believe that any of us seek to write into a void. We have something important to say, a story to tell. We want readers.

So how do we get them?

It's all about writing something that's worth being read. That means learning what Story means. How it's shaped and structured and why. I'm not a fan of all the writing rules floating around out there. I think they're good guidelines, but they can also clip your story's wings if your story needs to be something else. However, if you want to break the rules effectively, you need to know them in the first place. And I mean know--not be aware of or know about--you need to know them. Recognize them. Understand them.

And there are some guidelines I don't think should be broken. Story structure is one of them. If the foundations of the story aren't put together right, the reader's going to feel it. They may not be able to pinpoint exactly why, but they will feel the lack and it may be enough of a lack for that reader to never come back. Story structure is the bones of the story, it isn't the writing. Characters are the heart. They aren't the writing either. Themes and ideas are the muscle. And we still haven't hit the actual words yet.

Words are the flesh and grammar is the tendons. And yet, I'd wager that the words and grammar are around 90% of what writers focus on. Look at the "rules", we've all heard them. They're even called writing rules. Now, this isn't to say the rules are bad. They're not. It's important to know when to show and when to tell. It's important to engage the reader with tight, clean prose.

But if your skeleton's broken, if your heart's not beating, if your muscles are thin and underdeveloped, will it really matter if you've got acne or tendonitis?

Most of writing well has nothing to do with the actual writing. This is a mistake I know I've made, and one I'm going to work very hard to not make again. Because I don't just want my name in print. I don't want to just have my books on shelves in bookstores. I don't want to just be able to say that I'm published. That's too small a dream.

And even being widely read isn't quite enough for me.

I want to take a reader by the heart and soul and never let them walk away from my stories as the person who opened the cover for the first time or the hundredth time.

Our dreams should give us wings that allow us to fly past the stars. So don't keep your feet on the ground. Don't let fear cage you in. And don't ever, ever forget to look up.

Danyelle writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.  


angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

This is the best advice I've read, seek to read. Thanks for posting this.

Robyn Campbell said...

Great guidance, Dani, my friend. Most of writing definitely has NOTHING to do with the actual forming of letters on the paper. That's the part I love. I too want to take my reader out of their world and put them in mine, if just for a short while. This is the life. :-)

Yvonne Osborne said...

I will remember this...."don't seek to be published, seek to be read." I want to be read. The other would be nice too!

Christine Fonseca said...

Couldn't agree more!

Laurel Decher said...

Thanks for this post. I haven't commented before, but I find myself consistently reading your blogs. Thanks for taking the time to think it through and share it with us. This post says what I've been thinking and haven't been able to articulate to myself.

Stacy said...

Thank you so much for this post. I tend to get wrapped up in how to be published, worrying about how to get my foot in the door. But that's only half the battle - reaching readers is so important, and that's easy to forget with all the advice floating around.

Jennifer said...

Great post! Not only does it offer great advice, it gives me inspiration as well! Thank you for sharing this.

Bob said...

Good point. And publishers have to realize that their business is not distributing their books to consignments stores: their business is to sell books to readers. It's a radical concept for NY Publishing and one they are not grasping, but many indie authors are.

Kathryn Magendie said...

This is beautifully written, and so very true.

I watched something about Simon Cowell the other day and he said a singer can sing beautifully but if the song sucks, it won't be received well...

love this post - so heartfelt

Shelby said...

"I want to take a reader by the heart and soul and never let them walk away from my stories as the person who opened the cover for the first time or the hundredth time."

YES, Yes, yes.

"Give me everything, leave nothing out..." is what readers crave, and is what I long to give.

Martha Ramirez said...

Great advice! Thank you!

April said...

Well said. My goal is to write something that causes a change in someone else. Thanks for reminding me what it's all about.

Jess of All Trades said...

Fantastic topic and eloquently written. I needed this today!

Marsha Sigman said...

This is an incredible post. Great advice, I've always said the only way to dream is do it big.

I won't forget to look up again.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! In fact, I've been saying the same thing around my house, realizing that the focus should now be changed from being published to being read. Awesome to have somebody say it out there!

Unknown said...

Great advice... dream big. Why not?

Bkloss said...

Excellent post!!! I needed to read this. As a writer, it's too easy to focus on the writing, the voice, etc. But in the end, the story is what lasts. Thank you!

CathrynLouis said...

Great reminder. From now on, being read - not being published - is my focus. Thank you!