Why I Want to Publish

February 8, 2014

delusionsSometimes I ask myself: why do you want to publish?

And my response, usually said in an affected country twang, is typically:

“Cuz I ain’t no Emily Dickenson.”

As in: Emily Dickinson, the nineteenth century America poet who hoarded away ‘nearly 1800 poems’ that were only discovered after her death.

Say that again? She had 1800 poems (!) that were never shared, that were never published, that were so hidden away from prying eyes, not even her sister knew about them?

It makes one postulate:

Emily D. must have burned in this secret life, furtively writing away in the dark, slipping her poems away when no one else was looking, making sure they were never to be seen by another soul–a fate which I refuse to follow. Hence, my country twang response.

But wait! It is not as straightforward as that.

Emily D. didn’t just write it all in gluttonous secrecy and then leave her writing for the wastelands–as it may appear at first glance. She did publish a few pieces while she was alive. And upon her death, she instructed her sister to burn her correspondence–but not the 1800 poems. She gave no instructions about the poems–and I find that silence telling. It suggests a half-hope, a wish, a chance for those poems, her work, to see the light of another’s eyes. If she really didn’t want anyone to see them, they’d have been tossed on the fire with the rest.

Even poem-hoarder Emily D. wanted her work to be seen, don’t you think?

Another poet I like to consider when thinking about publishing is William Carlos Williams. Imagine: it’s the 1920’s.  William, poet and physician, is scribbling poetry on prescription pads in-between patient visits. When he completes one, what does he do? Does he toss those small notes away? Do they flutter into the garbage pail, forgotten? No. He keeps them. And eventually,  they’re published.

writingwantstobereadBut you see how easily it could have gone the other way! Write and remove vs. write and reveal. Why do these writers, even reticent ones like Emily D, arrange things so that their writing is (eventually, ultimately) revealed?

Because: Writing wants to be read. 

Let’s consider now ‘the Legend of Stephen King’. As the legend has it, when young Stephen King was a poor English teacher scribbling out his first book, Carrie, he reached a point of such intense frustration that he tossed it all out. He threw it out and his wife (as the legend says) had to dig it all out of the garbage and coax him to continue.

Again, so close! It could’ve been left there to mould and rot away with the coffee grinds…but it didn’t. And, also, it wasn’t burned! It was retrievable, workable, and ultimately–published.

So doesn’t it make you wonder? Why do writers pull their work from the trash, pile up the papers, keep them from dying and disintegrating away? If writing were solely about the cathartic process for the writer,  the result might be considered disposable. Write, rinse, repeat: right? But it’s more than that. So much more.

I turn lastly to novelist EM Forester and his epigraph to his book Howard’s End. When you open Howard’s End, before the story even starts, Forster has written two words on a single page: Only Connect.

Is this the crux of it, then? Did Edward Morgan Forster get it right? Is this about shared connection? Sharing stories; experience?

There are a lot of blogs and a lot of books in the world. I’ll never have time to read them all. But the ones that Serendipity sends my way offer the chance of connection–and we’re all willing to take that chance. Think of how you feel when a text really resonates. That is the pulse behind publication. That is why I want to publish.

I mean, its not like I’m doing it for the money! *hardy har har*

(…though, Universe, please note: I am not adverse to money! I’ll take the book deal, movie deal, merchandising deal and yes you can use my Regency characters as action figures in MacDonald’s Happy Meals if you so wish!)

PS. To experience WCW’s prescription-pad sized poems, click here. Also here’s Emily D’s work.



  1. FYI. If you like Emily Dickinson, you might like reading “Bridge Over Hell” by Michael Armstrong.

    I didn’t know that she’d filed 1800 poems. That indicates she may have been lacking in self-confidence. May.

    Guess we’ll never know. Not in this life anyway!


  2. […] Rekindle your kinship with writers everywhere. A couple of posts ago I mentioned the Legend of Stephen King, and told the tale of how, in the midst of working on his […]

  3. […] assertion; an aspiration for connection (even if it is only connection to self…though I argue here that is it usually much more than […]

  4. Thanks for the book recommendation! I’m always on the look out for good reads!

    Julie Johnson

    • Heh. Michael Armstrong, the writer, is an acquaintance. Janet Morris, the creator of the Hell series, is another acquaintance.

      Great people 🙂


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