By Christina Katz
I had been teaching writing for about a year when I noticed something about writing for pleasure vs. writing for publication. Both intentions seemed to produce equally strong results for my writing students. In fact, when comparing writing assignments between the two classes, I often felt students in my writing for pleasure classes were producing superior results compared to my writing for publication students.
There was only one problem, and it was a big one. The difficulty came when it was time to match the strong writing with markets that would pay. My writing for pleasure students were ill prepared for the kind of strategic thinking needed to treat writing like a business. They were more often prone to magical thinking, which is fun, but tends to yield scant results. The magical thinking went like this: I wrote well therefore I will get published.
Unfortunately, putting wonderful words on the page won’t guarantee publication. An eloquent writer needs a whole list of professional skills to become a professional writer who can find the best publication opportunities for his or her work. Does this mean that writing for pleasure is a waste of time?
Definitely not! Writing for pleasure can help you flex many muscles as a writer. Here are just a few examples:
Strengthen your voice: When you write for pleasure you can let your voice rip. A conversational tone will assist you not only when you are writing for enjoyment, but also when you are writing on assignment or for pay. A knack for writing in an informal tone will carry over to whatever writing you do. And when you have a deadline, leaning into your voice to get a first draft down on the page can really help you get the job done. When you can’t seem to find your voice, forgo the computer and try writing by hand. Even if that means rewriting what you’ve already drafted with a keyboard.
Discover meaningful topics: What are you going to write about? When you can’t come up with fresh material, writing for pleasure can help you uncover ideas you might otherwise miss. A writer is only as prolific as her next topic. If you feel blocked, get out a piece of paper and start writing a letter to a close friend. Spill your guts. Tell your friend everything you want to say. This is a sure-fire strategy for making sure you never run out of material. Just make sure the “friend” is someone you trust, so you won’t censor.
Explore structure organically: If you struggle to make smooth transitions in your writing, writing for pleasure can help you get out of your own way. When you write quickly, without the self-consciousness that can come from anticipating your editor’s red pen, you will naturally create smooth transitions. Once you get the hang of trusting yourself and just letting one paragraph dovetail into the next, your words will flow. When in doubt, set your writing aside to cool off a bit. Then tweak for strong transitions.
Uncover deep thoughts and authentic beliefs: Say something fresh. Epiphanies and surprises are key to writing success. Readers really don’t want to hear the same old, same old. Say something you didn’t realize you thought. If it’s a surprise to you, chances are good that it will also be a surprise to the reader. If you focus on telling your specific truth, you’ll avoid the posturing, big words and overly formal language pitfalls that dog beginning writers. You’ve got something to say, so say it!
Enjoy the process: I don’t know about you, but the pleasure of writing was a primary reason I wanted a career as a writer. Writing can be cathartic. Writing can be an escape. Writing can be an exploration. Writing can be so many things. Why limit yourself to the drudgery of only writing because you have to, when you can also write simply because you love to write?
is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). A platform development coach and consultant, she teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.