Monday, July 6, 2015

A Writer's Responsibility

His Hand
Flickr Credit: Hartwig HKD
Eighth grade was an important year for me as a writer. My Language Arts teacher asked us to write 18 pages in a notebook per semester, and I took to it immediately. I don’t have the fingers to count how many notebooks I’ve finished since then.

As I reflect on her class, I remember something she once said—something I don’t quite agree with anymore. When describing the intent of “Publishing Parties,” where students were required to read a polished peace to the entire class, she said that if you are good at writing and have something to say, then it is your responsibility to share it.

(And that’s not a direct quote, but it was more or less what she meant.)

Sharing your writing is a responsibility. Not like when you beg for a puppy and your parents say, “He’ll be YOUR responsibility. YOU have to feed him. YOU have to pick up the poop.” More like the social and moral duties that mandate you call 9-1-1 when you see an accident, or rescue babies that find themselves sleeping on train tracks.

I suppose it’s among those “First Amendment” thoughts, that you should not only be able to have an opinion, but there is an urgent need for you to share it.

I write stuff. I make no claims that I write well, or that I am published, or anything more than what is true: I write stuff. Sometimes I share my opinions, like I’m doing right now. I work on stories, I write in a diary, I put my thoughts into words. I don’t do this stuff because I have to, though—blogging and writing are almost exclusively activities of pleasure.

I’m not out to change the world with this blog.

Somehow my teacher’s point has stayed with me. If you have the guts to write something, then it’s your duty to publish it. You have a voice that needs to be heard.

I’m dubious.

I wrote my inactive WIP because I didn’t want to go to college. It was an emotional story. I didn’t develop the bad guys, most of the characters are still flat, and the plot makes me dizzy to think about fixing. At this instant, it would be better off deleted than published. I feel no responsibility to share that work. It’s mine. And even though I may trade works with CP’s and continue to work on it, I don’t want to publish it.

In fact, from where I stand now, it’s hard to imagine ever wanting to publish any fictional works I’ve written.

Part of it is simply the workload—when you get published (traditionally, anyway), you’re expected to repeat the process and produce another product. You have to see about people reading your book, you have to endure the criticism and be grateful for the praise, and all the other little author things that keep you afloat. A lot of people don’t mind, but I do. I’m not interested in any of that.

The other part is just that I don’t see a lot of value in being published. There are only seven stories, every human is a remix of the same four nucleic acids, everything is the same. While I might enjoy reading books and getting a peek into other people’s lives, I’m not interested in reciprocating. Even if I had something to share, why would I want to?

Personal preference doesn’t really factor into “social duty,” whether it is real or imagined in this case, but here I am, personal preferencing. I wouldn’t charge someone with a “duty” I’m not willing to fulfill myself, which means in my case, I don’t think anyone should have a responsibility to publish what they’ve written.

It is my pleasure to blog. It is my pleasure to occasionally share some of my projects. But it’s not my pleasure to be forced to do those things. Writing is my choice, not my responsibility. I’d like it to stay that way.

What do you think? Do writers have a responsibility to share their writing?

14 comments :

  1. I always hated those publishing parties because I'm really not the person that likes to read my writing aloud in front of a bunch of people. I rather just shove a copy in their hands and scurry out of the room so I don't have to watch them reading it. That said, I do want to be a published author one day for my books. I like how with publishing, you don't have to be right there as the reader is reading your work, and that makes me more comfortable when I know that someone is reading my writing. Anyways, I do not think publishing is a duty or a responsibility that writers have. Writing means different things for different people, and for some of those people, their writing will always remain secret because they want it to be that way. That's fine. Publishing your writing is a wonderful opportunity that anybody has now, but it should never be a responsibility.

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    1. I always got really nervous, but in some cases it turned out to go really well. Actually, that would be an interesting story to tell one day... Anyway, I actually like watching people read my work because I want to watch their faces and then I always pester them about what parts were funny and what parts were not, so I guess it's not that I'm totally opposed to people reading my work but it's still a burden. But you're right, writing can mean different things for different people and if people want to share it or keep it then it's their choice. Like you, I'm glad it's an opportunity out there, but I'm also glad it isn't a responsibility.

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  2. Hmm, interesting point. I would hate it if people told me that I NEED to publish what I write. Honestly, I don't like writing things I'm supposed to write. I want to write because I want to write, and if I'm told to write it, I don't want to write it (usually). I do think those with the talent and the stuff to say should be encouraged, but we already have enough writers. It's not like we have to force other people to write or we'll have nothing to read. I like to think of books more as a gift than as a responsibility. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. It would be alarming, right? I'm okay with being told what to write, I guess, but there's a freedom in writing that makes me happier without the dictation. There is something to be said for encouragement, but you're right—there's already a force out there. Books are a gift! Thanks for your insight, Liz!

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  3. This post really got me thinking! I agree that publishing is something that should not be considered a duty for all writers to accomplish. Many times the only audience I write for is myself. Sharing my writing (for some reason, especially the stuff I feel strongly about) is a really difficult thing for me to do. I think that as long as you are pleased with your story, then you have succeeded. And if someone else likes it, then it's just a bonus. Writing is a personal thing, and I believe that each writer should have the choice whether or not to show it to the world. That being said, I think that there are a lot of good things about publishing as well, and it is something that I may look into in the future. But if I do, then it will definitely be my own choice, and not because I was forced into publishing something. Thanks for the insight, Heather!

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    1. Well, I'm glad I got your thoughts working! There are those ideas that the first audience you should write for is yourself, and I can't blame you for finding the sharing of writing hard—I feel that way, too. We do have the right to define success on an individual basis, so like you said, personal pleasure is a good thing. Publishing definitely isn't bad and I certainly hope you achieve it as a writer, but I'm also glad that there isn't a mandatory publishing rule in our lives. Thanks for discussing, Bailey!

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  4. I've never really though much about the 'duty' of writing, but I have to agree with you. Just because you have something to say, or have written something, doesn't mean you have to share it with everyone. Writing can be a very private thing, and for me, it mostly is.
    I write stories, and I share them on my blog, but that's about 25% of the writing I do. The rest is for me. I don't think it's a writers responsibility to share/publish their writing, it's something they do because they want to.

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    1. It's not something I've heard often personally, but it's something I thought about frequently and something I kind of wanted to liberate myself from. Like you, writing is a very private thing for me.

      I've enjoyed seeing your writing on your blog and I'm glad you share them, but I definitely wouldn't want to pressure you into sharing things you don't want to share. Thanks for your input, Opal!

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  5. Wow, I have to say, that argument is new to me! I agree with you, writing is a choice, not a responsibility. It being a responsibility would make writing seem very forced, like a chore, which is just unecessary. Unless you make a living out of writing and see it as your duty to put food on the table, I can imagine no other situation where writing being a responsibility is more beneficial than harmful!

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    1. It's not exactly an argument I've heard often, but it's stuck with me a long time. I definitely like it when writing isn't a chore, like you said. When you do decide to make writing into a career, then I could see it becoming a duty, but that's the transaction of labor and work, I think. But in personal matters, I'm willing to keep my writing free. Thanks for reading, Jo!

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  6. I think we certainly have the right to share or hide our writing as we please. I know for me, my writing is a part of who I am. Some works are much too personal to share. Just like you would never force someone to share their diary to the world for the good of humanity, I don't think you should force a writer to share what they've written if they are not comfortable with that. Still, if your work is really good it will probably end of getting published by someone after you die. Hate to say it, but I'm glad that happened to Emily Dickinson. If her sister hadn't shared all her secret scribblings, I wouldn't have my favorite poet today.

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    1. I'm glad we do have that right to privacy right now. I know that I've written personal things I wouldn't want others to see, and I know I wouldn't want to embarrass someone by reading their personal things. Of course, I'm sure there are many other writers whose works end up in the dump after they die... But I suppose it's all on the flip of a coin. It's good in the story of Emily Dickinson, but I'm sure there are many other writers lost to the tests of time...

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  7. I have to say I have never thought about it like this, but you're right. Writing and publishing, they're definitely choices, not responsibilities. It's a privilege to write and I'm sure it would feel like a privilege to get published, but it's not something a writer should feel obligated to strive for. :)
    Here's another thing you shouldn't feel obligated to do, lol. I tagged you, but this is a pleasure not a responsibility ;) http://thessalexa.blogspot.com/2015/07/tag-week-new-discoveries.html


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. I suppose it isn't something we would usually think about, huh? I like to feel like it's a privilege, too, so being published is just a perk, totally. Also, thanks for tagging me! I have also been tagged by Ally, so I'll have to get around to it, soon. :)

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