Some of you might know I used to publish a zine, The Inner Swine. For nearly 20 years I self-published four issues a year, 25,000 words an issue.
What was in it? Short stories. Occasional poems. And a lot of essays about whatever happened to be on my mind that month, that day, that year. Some of it has stood the test of time, some of it I’m embarrassed about. It was a lot of fun, though, and I learned a lot about writing simply by, you know, writing. More or less constantly for 20 years, because you don’t crank out a hefty novel’s worth of material every year if you slack off.
I never expected to make any money from the zine, or gain any sort of recognition. It was just self-indulgent and fun. I had a few hundred subscribers, was in a few stores. One of the main things I learned from the zine was this: Sometimes you have to write just for yourself.
When your ambition is to make a living from writing, from telling stories, you can lose sight of that, sometimes. There’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to write something that has commercial potential—we all gotta eat. But it’s easy to get caught up in polishing pitches, collaborating and revising to get a book sold, or trying to constantly imagine what people will like and respond to. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is to unplug from all of that and write something simply because you’re excited about it, find it interesting or entertaining, or want a challenge. Put aside any considerations about its marketability—or even if anyone else will “get” it—and just write for the sheer joy of it.
It isn’t easy, sometimes, with schedules. Sometimes you’re lucky if you get to work on anything, much less something just for the freedom of it. But if you can, you should.
Now, I have to get back to my epic poem composed in Esperanto. Which means I have to learn Esperanto, and soon.