Endorse Your Writing
Writing is often a very solitary pursuit–at least, it is at first. Most of us start out writing just for ourselves. For some, it’s anonymous fanfiction, while others write secret fantasies in their journals. We write to explore what we like, and we often start off compelled to write something we’re missing, something we’d like to read but that just isn’t out there.
Over time, though, other influences start to creep in. We start thinking about our writing in a broader context. We ask ourselves, is this any good? Would anyone else want to read this? Or, worst of all in my opinion, will this sell?
I think every writer has to decide how much they want to write for the market, or a specific audience, or for themselves; whether you want to write with a message or just to entertain; how much weight you put on movie options and foreign rights. These decisions have major impacts on your writing process and your writing career. It changes how you take rejection and from whom. It affects whether you choose to self-publish or traditionally publish, and it affects how you share your book when it comes out (or if you keep it entirely to yourself).
No matter what your motivations are–and I would implore you to look at those closely–endorsement and coercion are important concepts to keep in mind. Endorsement is the idea that you’re whole-heartedly affirming what you’re doing, without coercion. Coercion is the influence of external factors–whether it the reward of a higher income, concern over how others perceive you, or the threat of punishment. Basically it means asking yourself: are you writing because you want to, or you feel (at some level) that you should?
Let me break it down a little further. Let’s imagine we have two writers on the extreme: one that fully endorses their writing, and one that is coerced to write. The endorsed writer may show up to the page excited every day, even thinking through their day about what they’re going to write after school or work. They might be an anonymous fanfiction writer who has no hopes for publication, and writes for an audience of one: themselves. The coerced writer on the other hand, might wake themselves early to pull out a certain wordcount before breakfast because they worry that if they don’t, they’ll be judged. The coerced writer might obsess over sales count or reader reviews, feeling their interest in writing seep away with every poor rating. This writer might write in a subgenre they have no real interest in because they think it will sell better.
Now, this is not a binary. You don’t have to fall into one camp or the other. Some writers feel that they fully endorse their work–until it comes time to market it. Some writers may feel socially coerced to hit a certain wordcount every day in order to be a “real” writer–but then find full endorsement in the editing process where daily wordcount isn’t a focus. Some writers may start off their writing journey fully endorsed, but feel the slow creep of external forces as they engage in the social writing sphere. An example might be a genre writer who starts an MFA program, thinking it will help them develop their epic fantasy trilogy, only to try and change their work when the literary students get more attention and praise. Coercion can be overt or subtle, and it’s not all or nothing.
The endorsement/coercion spectrum is something I’m exploring right now in my own process. There’s a rift in SFF between literary and commercial fiction (a post for another day) that I often feel squarely in the middle of. Should I move more to one side of the spectrum? What will happen to my career if I don’t? What will happen to my happiness if I do?
In the end, I keep coming back to my basic writing motto: write work you’re proud of. If it means I have to keep navigating this spectrum to pick apart influences and come back to myself, that’s what I’ll do. In the end, the only person who really matters when I write is me. I’m the one who has to sit down at the page, and I’m the one who has to live with what I put out in the world. To that end, I’ll keep endorsing my writing, and I hope you do too.