In Defense of Not Publishing Everything You Write

by Katrina Monroe

If you ask any fledgling writer (or seasoned writer, for that matter) what the purpose is to writing often and with ferocious glee as one approaches the finish line, they would probably answer with, “to publish,” followed quickly by, “to make money.” Occasionally, you’ll get what the internet has christened The Guy in Your MA Program response, “To dispel the demons which dwell in my soul, tormenting me for endless hours.”

Yeah, I’ve got kids. I feel you, buddy.

But not all writers are tortured souls. In fact, most of the writers I know are relatively happy people with families and friends and the greatest guilt they harbor is spending an entire day binging old episodes of Supernatural rather than editing that thing that’s been sitting on the desk for two weeks. They write to publish. They write to make money.

That’s totally fine. I write to publish. I write to make money.

But what if we wrote—not all the time, but sometimes—just because.

I have a pretty standard nighttime routine during the summer months when my daughters are out of school and making it their sole mission in life to see how quickly they can drive me, drooling and giggling, to the asylum. I get into my yoga pants and a torn-up hoodie I stole from a friend many years ago (sorry, Jessie, you can’t have it back), pour a really large glass of whatever alcoholic beverage is closest, and settle onto the couch with my journal in my lap. Sometimes, I write about my day (to dispel the demons and blah, blah). Sometimes, I plot out what’ll happen next in my current work-in-progress. Most of the time, though, I scribble insane ramblings that can take the shape of poetry, a vignette, a few lines of dialogue that won’t leave me alone… They’re little pieces of something inside of me that can only be expressed by writing them down. I don’t even know how to form the words in my head until they’re out, and even then I can’t make sense of them until every last word is on the page.

Would you be surprised if I told you that these snatches of poetry and prose are, more often than not, good? Like, good good. I should publish this shit good. Make some of that Neil Gaiman bank good. And, for a minute, I consider throwing it into my “real” writing, thinking it’ll add some sparkle. I always resist, though, because there’s more than just style and form put into these collections of words. I won’t say my soul is in it, but something. And whatever the something is, I want to keep it private. Special.

The other night, during a particularly tearful word purge, I wrote a twenty-line poem about absolutely nothing. I’m not cocky enough to say it’s amazing (it’s amazing) but it’s pretty damn good. It’ll stay in my journal, though, where I can revisit it like I would a paramour.

My little writings are my secrets. They’re little glimpses into the side of me I don’t often present to myself or others. I could throw them in an anthology, slap a cover on it and make a few bucks. Or I could rip it apart and sell it piece by piece to a magazine here, an anthology there, like scraps of meat. But then they wouldn’t be secrets anymore. They wouldn’t be mine. I couldn’t turn to them in the moments when I’m whittled to almost nothing and realize I do have depth, I do have worth, and I’m allowed to keep some things for myself. I’m allowed to be this person, even if the only people who know about it are me and myself.

Publish the big things. The things that make you excited. The things you can’t fucking wait to share with the rest of the world. But the things that prick your feels with needles, keep those for yourself. I hear acupuncture does wonders.

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