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Q&A

What's the point of writing that I know will never be used or read?

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Writing can be a very difficult, frustrating, stressful and effortful process. It can also be very isolating to the writer. Given that writing is a form of communication, what is the point of writing material that you're pretty sure no one else will ever read? Isn't it a complete waste of your time and effort?

Note: I saw this question posed in the comments to another question. I decided to post it as an official question --even though I have an answer in mind --because I feel NOT knowing the answer to this question was, for a long time, the biggest barrier to my growth and success as a writer. Other people's answers are welcome --this continues to be something I struggle with emotionally, even though I've embraced it intellectually.

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For me one of the uses of writing is to help me work out, clarify and order my thoughts on some matter. The process of developing a clear and definite explanation for someone else, regardless of whether anybody else actually reads it or not, helps me make sure that I really do understand what I think I understand and exposes any areas where I need to do further work. It's not necessary for anybody else to read the result for me to get this benefit; it's the process of creating the work that's important.

While a fairly obvious case for this this is for developing and confirming understanding of mathematical and scientific ideas (famously, every Haskell programmer writes a monad tutorial), it's useful in other areas, such as fiction, as well. Most works of fiction live in a world that's not entirely written up in the story itself; to be convincing the author must still know and understand this background because it will "leak" into the story as written. Writing up this background can help ensure that it's both consistent and understood by the author. Virtually every television show has a bible, never intended to be read by the viewers, for exactly this reason (though it's also used to share information amongst the team of writers).

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/47371. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Yes! Fairly often for me, it is the process of writing an explanation of something that uncovers the gaps in my own understanding of that thing. The mere act of explaining something can push you to learn more about both the subject area and the craft of explaining it (writing, teaching, etc). Monica Cellio‭ about 1 year ago

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When I was in high school, a friend and I wandered together downtown and came across a psychic's booth. Out of curiosity, we stepped inside. We were both writers, she told us. My friend wrote for herself and it didn't matter to her if others saw it. But I was different. I wrote for others to see. No magic required; she nailed it.

I've kept a diary on and off, though even there I have fantasies that one day people will care about my inner life. And I've written first drafts that never turned into second drafts. But mostly everything I write is with an eye to sharing it with others.

I wasn't ready for publication when I was younger (aside from a few small things) but I didn't want to write things no one would see. Chris talks about changing his view of writing that wasn't going to go anywhere. This wasn't my path. You can consider this a bit of a frame challenge to the question; my approach was to change my writing.

I started an email mailing list which was a support group for people with a particular health issue (before that, I did it on USENET). When the world wide web began, I started a website and published new material plus the best of the emails (mine, or others' with permission). Now I've done several websites and a blog too, and am active on other mailing lists. I'm not great about keeping stuff up to date, but all the different things I do add up.

A year ago I found StackExchange and I've spent quite a lot of hours writing up answers, mostly here and on Worldbuilding. Researching issues I'd never considered researching before. It's all helped me to become a better writer. Both in honing my prose and in incorporating research.

Prose isn't fiction though and fiction is where I'm aiming. Even so, I've found writing the huge number of (semi) polished email or web posts to be helpful. How do I tell a story of something that happened? (does it matter so much to my writing if the story is real or made up?) How do I use research facts without overwhelming the audience? In what ways can I evoke emotion in my readers? How can I shorten this piece without losing anything important? Crafting over and over again. And then just practice in sitting down and finishing something.

What is the point of writing something that won't be read? Find the point. Find what inspires you to keep going. If all the things that others here have written about aren't enough for you, then reframe the problem. Practice your writing but do it in a way that sustains you.

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As Emerson said, 'Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm' - and some significant hard graft. Writing that aims to be read can be difficult, frustrating and so forth, but the rewards, should it ever be read, are not guaranteed and certainly not commensurate with the work involved.

For me, writing is its own reward. It's how I communicate with myself. I have written a daily journal for decades and it fascinates me to read back on the hopes and anxieties of past selves, and to see where progress has been made in how I understand myself and the world I inhabit: even to identify burgeoning wisdom. I doubt anyone else will read these journals (I hope not anyway, at least during my lifetime), but these are the pages on which I explore ideas and hone both my writing and my life skills.

As well as that mundane daily practice, I write for different platforms and for my Master's Degree, both fiction and non-fiction. Some of the latter is in the process of being published, but that has taken a very long time. Everything I have written has got me to this point, of having the confidence to put it up for publication, of sending my little darlings into the great wide world, to succeed or fail.

But regardless of whether I am ever read by more than my beta readers, not writing is not a sustainable way of living for me. Writing is like breathing - it's harder if I have a cold or am climbing four flights of stairs, but I can't not do it.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/47419. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Writing is not a passion for me, not at all. I never wanted to be a writer.

I wanted to be a scientist, and I became a scientist. As a scientist, I spent much of my life learning. Through learning (whether through direct learning or through teaching which is also a form of learning), I came to see that life is more worthwhile if we actually grow during the process of it.

My science career wound down, and I switched to writing. And frankly, because I'd been in science for so long, I had the good fortune of having a birds' eye view into numerous scientific things--I had hobnobbed with Nobel laureates and the like, partied with present-day galileos and so on and so forth.

And the thing all of us would agree on, including not only the smarty pants but also my collegial teachers in the CC system (who are smartypants in their own ways), is that learning is the key.

So, with science done but a decently-fit and trained brain, thanks to the investment of US tax dollars, writing (fiction) became the next thing. I'm learning.

My vocabulary is expanding. My facility with sentence structure, paragraph structure, character arcs and so on. I'm meeting new people--artists--who also agree that trying new things (another word for learning) is good.

I have plenty of published papers. Some of them are barely cited. Possibly not even read. That's OK--they are part of the official record of peer-review. Other articles, decades old, are still cited dozens of times each year. That tells me that work I did ages ago is being discovered now, by people to whom it's useful.

If my fiction has even a handful of readers, that will outstrip the number of readers of some of my research. And since a low readership (from those papers) is my benchmark, that'll be a win.

So I write for all of those reasons. Not much of a useful answer, but I wrote it anyway.

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For many years --decades actually --my goal with every piece of writing I wrote was that it be read and appreciated by someone. There were plenty of things I wrote that didn't achieve that goal, and ended up moldering away in some corner of my hard-drive, but I viewed those projects as failures. I write to connect with other people, and anything that doesn't do that isn't worth the effort --or so I thought.

Ironically, it was my day job as a programmer that taught me differently. Often, as a programmer, you can spend months of work coding something that never goes into production. Surprisingly, that never bothered me that much --because I viewed every project as a learning project. Whether or not the code was used, it taught me new things about how to be a better programmer. The same applies to writing. Every word you write potentially teaches you to be a better writer --if you approach it as someone ready to learn. And you can't be a good writer without going through all those pages of writing first. Writing projects that are never read aren't failures. They're learning opportunities. The only failed projects are the ones that you don't learn anything from.

I'm a late convert to worldbuilding, and the Iceberg Theory, which states that we must know far more about the world of our story than we put on the page (and like many late converts, I've been evangelical about it recently!) but I do think this goes even beyond the richness of story that can result from doing plenty of extra research and worldbuilding before writing. The writing you do doesn't necessarily have to be backstory, or even be directed towards a certain project in order for it to be worthwhile. The practice of good writing --and the process of becoming a better writer --is a worthy goal in of itself. And it's a mistake to think you can get to the good writing by avoiding the bad writing. Quantity leads to quality.

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For me, writing is a passion. Not writing is an impossibility. There are stories in my mind; I need to tell them. I need to find out where they go, how they go, what they mean. I have something in mind when I start a story, but it changes, mutates, I do not fully understand it until it is written and finished.

I find out what I think and how I feel about complex issues (moral, philosophical, political) by writing about them, directly or indirectly. A story lets me ask complex "what if"s, that lead me deeper into an issue. I can play with ideas, explore them, travel down untrodden paths to find out what lies at their end.

Writing is a process, and I enjoy every bit of that process. The research, the editing, the sketching down of hasty ideas and drawing lines between them, the bouncing of ideas against longsuffering friends - every part of the process of creation. I love it, because it is a process of creation.

Of course I want an audience. A story is to be told to someone. Otherwise, is there a story? A story that isn't told is like sheet music that's never played - it is a promise unfulfilled. I am made uncomfortable by books that don't get opened - they are there to tell stories, not to sit on a shelf!
However, while I write, I do not ask myself whether this thing will get published. For one thing, I myself might decide that this half-finished creation project is not good, and consign it to the dark pit of oblivion in a "nah" folder. Multiple mythologies speak of the gods making multiple attempts and scraping them before arriving at a final creation. My story, my prerogative.

And then, the thing is, in our digital world there isn't really such a thing as "no-one will ever read this", unless that's the fate you yourself want for a particular story. You might be unable to sell it. You might be unable to have it published traditionally. I'm sure as heck going to try - like I said, I very much want an audience. But I do not look to earn my bread through writing. So if all else fails, I can just post my stuff on the web, and proceed to write the next thing.

Of course I'm learning and I'm getting better as I write. But honestly, that's not something I look at. I do not write now so that "one day" I can write better. I write because writing is a fire in my bones right now.

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For some, writing is a job, or a significant part of their job. They write to earn a living. They sometimes write more than needed because they need to put down ideas, streamline thoughts and just to practice before getting to the finished product. Basically, they have to.

For the rest it is a mean to pursue an egotistical dream. Every extra word, every extra line is but looking into the mirror of self adulation and reassuring themselves that they have what it takes to achieve their goal. It is like the maiden brushing her hair in front of the mirror. She may only need one stroke to get her hair done, but she goes on and on, feeling prettier with every pass, even if there is no one else to look at her. She knows that if they had seen her, they would have acknowledged her beauty. In the same manner the greedy hobbyist writes for their secret reason, saying that no one will read it, but gloating with the certainty that if anyone were to read it, they would acknowledge the artwork.

As for myself, I write for my own pleasure. I use it as an extension of my thoughts. I record ideas, and talk to my future and past self through my written word. It is like a constant conversation with all other versions of me. Always improving, always advancing. Like a never-ending feast. Glad to share if it happens, but I don't care. Any extra line is one more line of pure bliss. Why would I want to miss that?

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