One of the pieces lighting up the publishing internet this week is Corinne Purtill’s confession in Salon that the book she wrote should really not have been written. Essentially, she realizes that she wrote her book for all the wrong reasons, and the fact that it didn’t sell was because it ought not to have: she was writing a book not because she loves to write, but because she’d like to be an author. She eventually faced reality: “One of the most sobering realizations of this experience was that for most of that time I was not working because I was an artist who must write or die, or because I was a crusading journalist who saw truth and needed to tell it. I was a self-absorbed striver reaching for another brass ring, and I used words as the best way to get there.”
Reading this really resonated for me on a personal level: from childhood writing aspirations that boiled down to wanting to be told I was smart, through my brief pre-law stint in college because I had declared that I would be a lawyer when I was 11 and hadn’t yet bothered to think about it more thoroughly, to the MA I got en route to a PhD I wanted to have but would never have enjoyed acquiring. There’s nothing wrong with aspiration, surely. It annoys me when anyone uses the word ambitious as a slur, as if that was a thing one should be ashamed to be. And yet, I think we need to be honest with ourselves about why we do the things we do. If you do not love the means to the greatness you hope to achieve, why put yourself through it? The higher you aim, the worse the odds, so you really have to be sure that you’re in it for the right reasons even if also for the self-aggrandizing ones, just in case all you get out of it is the enjoyment and personal sense of accomplishment.
Of course the more you love your work, the more passionate you are, the harder it is to take the more painful aspects of publishing’s realities (rejection, bad reviews, poor sales, etc). But in the end, whatever may come of publishing as distinct from writing, you have the fact that you are a writer, that the process matters and engages and invigorates you. There’s tremendous value in that.