Thursday, December 19, 2013

Achieving Success and Fulfillment as a Writer—Without Being Published

Thanks to Denice Jobe, a long-standing Writers of Chantilly member who provides our latest post!  DENICE JOBE'S features and essays have appeared in The Washington Post and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More,among others. She lives in Centreville, Virginia,with her husband, Steve, and twin boys, Nick and Henry. 

Achieving Success and Fulfillment as a Writer—
Without Being Published            

In fifth grade, I wrote and illustrated my own series of children’s books. Spooky, about a ghost who liked chocolate bars, was my favorite. Spooky was never officially published. It didn’t win a Newberry Medal or earn royalties. It didn’t have to. Finishing the story—showing it to my mother—was reward enough.      
Fast forward decades later and most of what I write is intended for eventual publication to a wide audience. I’ve even scoured my journal for ideas. Whenever I’m writing my thoughts, there’s always a question, can I expand this into an essay or article? Is there a market for this?
Many authors start out writing for fun and self-expression but get caught up in the idea that they have to be published to be successful as writers.
We can’t deny the lure of publication. Seeing our name in a national magazine or on a book cover—and getting paid—does for writers what the Super Bowl does for football players. It may seem that publication is the ultimate achievement. But there are rewarding alternatives to traditional publishing.
Can you be a successful writer without being published? Absolutely! Here’s how:

Writing serves a need in each of us. Do you write to express yourself? To work through crises? To connect with others? To make a difference in the world? To leave a legacy? To tell a story?
Once you figure out your reasons for writing, it’s possible to come up with alternate ways to satisfy those needs, without having to publish in the traditional sense. It might be that you don’t have to write a bestseller after all.

Channel your talent and creativity into something worthwhile. If you want to make a difference in the world, start locally. For example, a playwright/scriptwriter can partner with a community playhouse, high school drama club, or student filmmaker to see her vision on stage or screen. A poet can share his work in classrooms or mentor aspiring poets—children, adults, seniors—and arrange community readings. Authors can write for church newsletters, neighborhood aid groups and nonprofit organizations.
There are ways to satisfy a need to connect with other people and share ideas without joining the publishing rat race. A blog is just the thing for authors who like to write opinion or humor pieces. If you are involved in a hobby or club, start a newsletter or website. If you’re a novelist, write down your stories for friends and a family, or record it on a CD they can listen to while driving. A romance writer can pen steamy stories to share with his or her partner.
Look for writing opportunities at work with your company’s public relations or communications department. Volunteer to write content for their publications or website. It might lead to a paying position. By the way, if you’ve been putting off quitting your “dead-end” job until after you’ve sold your first novel, it’s time to find new employment where you can write every day and shine at it.  
Many authors have a powerful need to tell their personal stories but believe they’ve failed as writers if they can’t sell them to a publisher. Unfortunately, there are more of us writing our histories than publishers can accommodate. All the same, your stories are worthy and deserve to be shared.
Compile them along with photographs into a book for your family. There are online publishers such as that you can use to create beautiful and lasting keepsakes that will be handed down for generations.
I enjoy writing personal essays with a humorous slant. These are notoriously hard to sell. That doesn’t mean they are not important works. I’ve decided to collect them into a book for my children. They will enjoy reading them when they’re older.
If you believe that the only way for you to leave a lasting legacy is to be published, consider this: a newspaper story is gone in a day, a magazine article in a month. Very few books achieve bestseller or classic status. We read them, learn something from them—or not—and move on to the next. But think of all the old letters that people have saved over the years. They weren’t published at the time they were written or read by anyone but the recipient. Does that make them any less historically significant?
Letters and photographs, family stories, children’s artwork…these are what people treasure.

That’s inspirational and all, but I want a book I can hold in my hands. Self publishing using services like may be an option for people who want to do more with their manuscripts than keep them in a three-ring binder. There are countless resources online to guide you through the process if you decide self publishing is right for you. It comes down to your goals for your work and whether they will ultimately be met by self publishing. We've all heard stories of people whose self published books have gone on to become commercial bestsellers. Even if your book does not achieve that level of success, self publishing can help you produce a quality piece to share with people you know.

If you’re already caught up in the harsh cycle of submissions and rejections STOP! The reality is that often, no matter how hard we work, or how skilled we are, or how great our idea is, we just can’t break in. Frequent rejection is an occupational hazard for writers who shop their work. 
Isaac Asimov wrote, “Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil—but there is no way around them.” In fact, there is a way around them. It’s called don’t submit. Why suffer rejection if you don’t have to? Choosing not to write for publication is a valid option. It can even be liberating.
If you are fixated on publication—if you can’t remember why you got into writing in the first place—it’s time for an intervention. Take a scheduled break during which you write nothing, or if that’s too extreme (some of us can’t not write) write with no thought towards publishing.
Try this: write for an hour on any topic and destroy the results. Delete it. Shred it. Repeat the exercise until it’s no longer uncomfortable for you to write just for yourself.
Experiment with new forms. For instance, if you typically write fiction, write an opinion piece. Step out of your comfort zone. Take risks. Expand your range of skills.
If you’re feeling beaten down by rejection, try another type of self-expression like painting or go on an adventure to rekindle your spirit.
The point is to challenge yourself. Growing as a writer and a person—learning something new—can generate feelings of excitement and accomplishment.

A Successful Writer is a Fulfilled Writer. When I became preoccupied with getting my work published I stopped writing for the sheer pleasure of it. Me, write a poem? Please. There’s no market for it.
What I realized after some serious soul-searching is this: there are many paths to success and fulfillment for a writer. Being published is just one of them. It might not even be the right path for some writers.  
That’s okay. We don’t have to be professional, published or paid writers to be real writers. Using our talent in other ways—writing for ourselves, for work, for our children, for our communities, for the hell of it—are all satisfying options.
It’s your choice. It could be that writing not for publication will make you happier than you’ve ever been as a writer.


  1. Eloquently put. Success can only truly be measured against one's own expectations. I became a much happier person--and, I believe, a better writer--when I understood that and stopped trying to meet "expected" expectations. The funny thing is, once I did that, and stopped worrying about getting published, I got a contract. Some things can't be made to happen; you have to let them.

  2. "Writing serves a need in each of us. Do you write to express yourself? To leave a legacy?"

    Well said.

    My father was a stone mason by trade and built the fireplace in every house in a neighborhood I drove through to go to high school. Its 35 yrs later and they are still standing and burning strong. I write for the intrinsic value because every fireplace, every short story, every novel leaves a legacy.

  3. Once, a group of us were traveling through a remote Himalayan terrain when the vehicle broke down. The driver managed to flag down a truck and went to get help. We wandered around a bit to enjoy the landscape when we heard the faint notes from a flute. Curious, we went in the direction of the sound and found a lonely shepherd playing the flute. The nearest human settlement might have been several miles away and there was no one to hear his music.
    “For whom are you singing?” my friend asked him.
    “For myself, for my cattle, and for the mountains around,” the man said. “At home I sing for my woman also. My soul suffocates if I cannot sing.”
    I think the essence of what he said is what Denice has said here – finding fulfillment without expecting the world to acknowledge your talent. I hope I have expressed it the right way.