Reframing My Writing: Doing it For Me, Not An Audience
Original images by Sara Garnica & Ivan Samkov
It might seem ironic to confess what I’m about to say in an essay I’m writing for publication, but I think some time over the past few years of writing I’ve lost the ability to write for joy. In its place I’ve discovered the much-less satisfying art of writing merely for publication or recognition.
But it’s something I think a lot of us writers are struggling with. In fact, if my endless doom-scrolling on Twitter is any indication, it’s something most creatives in general are struggling with. I see countless writers, artists, musicians, and others in creative fields talk about this, often framed as creativity falling prey to the gig economy, to the everlasting hustle, to the need to monetize and capitalize everything.
It’s more than just that, though. I’ve known since I was about seven (two decades ago), that I wanted to be a writer. I remember being in second grade and telling a teacher confidently that I was going to be a writer when I grew up.
I remember, a few years later, when I discovered that the author of some of my favorite books had written her first when she was around 11 or 13, I’m not sure which, feeling like I was already behind. Like there was a ticking clock hovering over my head, counting down the seconds until I expired or lost the ability to be a writer.
Ever since then, I’ve been racing — against myself, against the inevitable movement of time, against my peers even — to publish.
I started writing for mainstream publications in college and I haven’t stopped, penning dozens if not hundreds of personal essays, writer profiles, literary takes, and more for a variety of online sites (shoutout to LitReactor for being an internet home to me for the past three years, housing nearly 40 of my articles). I’ve completed four novels, none of them published but all of them labors of love; of blood, sweat, and tears, and I’m in the process of writing my fifth.
The ultimate goal, of course, of anything I write is to see it published. I want the byline at that fancy new site, I want the readership, I want an audience, I want I want I want.
But that isn’t why I started writing in the first place. Before I had my first article published, I had no idea what the high of publication was like, and I wrote out of a pure and unadulterated love for it.
In middle school, when I wrote scraps of novels in notebooks; in high school, when I wrote a poem every day for nearly a whole year; through most of college, when I first started seriously writing novels — I didn’t know what it was to have others read my words and react to them, love them or hate them, be moved by them.
I wrote because I loved it. I wrote because there was a burning in my chest, a rustling in my mind, a need to get these thoughts and ideas out of my brain. I wrote because it soothed something in me that stirred otherwise.
I wrote because it made me feel better, made me feel whole in a way that I didn’t when I wasn’t writing.
And I haven’t lost that! A few years ago, I went through an intense depressive episode and stopped writing. I also stopped talking to my therapist or leaving my room for anything other than food and work, but that’s a side note. When I did finally start seeing my therapist again and told her that I hadn’t been writing, she looked stunned.
“Karis, I could have told you that was a bad sign,” she said, in so many words. Even after only knowing me for a few months, she knew that writing is crucial to my wellness, not just a symptom of wellness but a key component of it as well.
So all my life, I’ve written because it’s the only way to maintain my sanity.
And yet sometime over the past few months, or maybe years, I’ve lost sight of that. I’ve started writing because I want to see my name in big splashy letters on the cover of a book; or get tagged on Twitter and see the reactions roll in as people respond to my words; or have someone email me to tell me how much my story meant to them.
All of these are fine things to want, don’t get me wrong. But I think, for me at least, I need to get back to the basics of why I write.
If I’m writing for publication or acclaim, well, that’s never guaranteed. What can be guaranteed is that I find joy in my own words, in the act of creation. That’s all I can control. That’s all I need to control. And ultimately, I’ll be happier if I seek that and not someone else’s acclaim.
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