Wednesday, May 2, 2012

So this NYT article made me have feelings

And thoughts. So many feelings and thoughts.

Maureen Johnson wrote a great blog post about this a while back, so my own feels kind of useless, but I just can't pass up the opportunity to say some things.

Okay. So. This is the article. You should read it; I promise it's interesting.


...did you read it?

Okay, well, I was a child who wrote novels. I was thirteen when I wrote my first one, and I did that thing the whole publishing industry is kind of figuring out right now -- I wrote a fanfiction and then switched the names and called it original fiction. I laugh about it now, but at the time I was proud as fucking punch and dead set on getting it published.

But I didn't.

Thank GOD I didn't. I don't have any of the novel anymore, and I wish I did because it was so awful it would be great for comedic value, but it was bad. Seriously, seriously bad. And luckily, not too long after I wrote it, I realized that. I put it away and started something else.

Rinse and repeat. I wrote a novel. I'd look at it again, decide it wasn't going anywhere, start something new.

Until I was eighteen, I never queried. And I'm so glad I didn't. I saved myself a lot of angst.

I also didn't self-publish.

And I'm infinitely glad I didn't self-publish.

If I, or my parents, had decided to self-publish my first awful novel, I doubt I would be the writer I am today. Sure, maybe I would have been proud and excited and felt like a rockstar for a couple weeks, but right now I would be pretty damn mortified. 

I probably wouldn't have continued writing.

When you take an unfinished product -- it feels awful, calling a kid's first novel a 'product' -- and you put it into "real book" form, you're validating it. You're putting it on a pedestal and calling it an achievement. Of course, finishing a novel is an achievement at any age. But it's not just about finishing a novel. It's about the journey, and this phenomenon of parents paying to self-publish their kids' books cuts that journey off. It moves the end point up and deprives the young writer of all the growth they could gain.

Publication is the end point for a lot of writers' journeys. Outside validation of our work -- it's what we're all in pursuit of. But if you take Little Timmy's book and say "yes, Timmy, good job, you are truly an accomplished novelist," Timmy is just going to feel good about himself for a few seconds and move on.

He's not going to have anything else to work for. He's going to feel like he's been there, accomplished that. He's not going to grow as a writer.

I understand why parents would want to reward their children. I understand why parents do this. But I can't help but think it's too much. It's coddling, and it's not going to be good for the kids in the long run. 


  1. I cannot tell you how much I agree with this. I've failed miserably at blogging about this myself, but I was horrified to see this article, and to think of how utterly embarrassed I would've been if any of my stuff I wrote as a kid had been "published." Even through college, when I was getting paid freelancing gigs, my fiction wasn't there yet.

    My folks encouraged me by paying for writing books, writing classes, and a subscription to Writers' Digest. NOT by making my books available. And that's why I'm still at it.

  2. Saw the article too.

    Luckily they did not have self-publishing in my younger years because I probably would've wanted to try it.

    This will date me, but I have my rip-offs of Sweet Valley High. Had a few original ideas too, just never finished anything longer than a short story.

  3. I remember writing my first novel as a kid and feeling really proud and the adults around me were proud. It from the simple fact that I had the self-discipline to do it. I never thought: I'm going to put this out in the world for everyone to see.

    The moment I finished that novel, I thought, this is the beginning of my learning process. This is the moment where I know I can keep writing, that I can actually do it and maybe one day be published. I think that's what parents should be focusing on.