Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Why Some of the Best Writers I Know Aren't Publishing

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Some of the best writers I know are relatively unpublished. They might have a story out here or there, or maybe write professionally in another genre, but they aren’t actively trying to pursue a publisher for a longer work. We all talk a lot about publishing -- it’s this thing that hangs over all writers, as either a goal, a reminder of our failures, perhaps a reminder of our successes, or an oppressive system we are trying to opt out of.


Part of everyone’s work as a writer ends up being developing some sort of relationship to publishing. Even if we are choosing not to publish and reject the system, we are still engaging with the publishing industry. It’s impossible to be completely outside of this.


I’ve always been trying to publish, as one of the reasons why I began writing was to communicate with other people. The idea of publishing appealed to me -- I didn’t fit in with many of my peers growing up, but had the feeling that there must be people out there who would understand my thoughts and writing and be able to connect. I had a feeling of deep alienation combined with a hope for something better. Of course, having put a book out now, I know that publishing doesn’t cure alienation and that this thought is silly. But I think it’s important to be honest about this and to think about why we all do what we do, to think about our motivations for writing and publishing so that we can make better and better work.


From talking to people about these questions, I’ve learned that those who are choosing not to publish are doing so for multiple reasons.  




One of my friends told me that fear is a motivating factor for him not publishing. This might seem typical; people are afraid of rejection and they are almost as equally afraid of success. People are afraid of reaching their goals and feeling aimless or not knowing what’s next. But he described what he called as a “fear of himself”. It’s easy when you’re writing to get caught up in publishing, in thinking about how to put together your next book “project” instead of just seeing where the writing takes you. His fear came from knowing that he’s a competitive person and could easily get caught up in trying to please publishers or trying to make something that he felt people wanted to buy instead of something that was good literature and said something about the world.


A Nobler Way


Cutting yourself off from the world of publishing to focus on the act of writing itself isn’t a new idea. Since people have been writing, they’ve been cutting themselves off from the outer world to try to focus on the craft. A lot of the time, this is seen as trying to find a way to live that is noble and true to the act of writing. To allow writing to be pure and not swayed by outside influence.




Most writers are control freaks. We obsess over words, create our own worlds… While writing we can control what people do and say, unlike in real life. This sense of control and trying to create something ideal leads many writers to be perfectionists. I know one writer who hates everything she writes within a week or two, despite everyone around her willing her to publish and share her work. She doesn’t want to put out a book she can’t be 100% happy with and knows that this might mean she never publishes creatively. One of my friends tells me on her good days, “I’m in no rush.” She’s waiting for her work to be exactly where she wants it to be before exposing it to the rest of the world.


Disillusionment with What Publishing Has to Offer


We know that the publishing world requires more and more of its writers today with less and less reward. We’re constantly being berated with statistics about how people aren’t reading or buying books and hearing that writers need to put themselves out there on social media to develop any sort of following. As someone who used to be very active on social media, and still am to a certain extent, I found that it eventually makes me feel hacky, dirty, and exhausted. No one wants to see you promoting yourself over and over. And this is coming from someone who relatively enjoys interacting with people; you can only imagine what this would do to a more introverted writer.

The idea that you have to sell your work is distasteful to many artists of all kinds, yet most of us crave some sort of recognition and release from the solitary worlds that we create. I don’t know what’s the truest way to conduct your writing life. I know I’m thinking about it all the time and wondering if my friends who are working away on stories and poems that inspire me -- that make me want to write every time I read it -- are going about things the right way and by publishing relatively early I made the wrong choice. And yet, I’m often the devil on their shoulders, pushing them to send their work out, to keep trying, to believe in themselves. At first, I thought I was being encouraging… but perhaps I’m only helping to feed the monster.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Jess Taylor

Jess Taylor is a Toronto writer and poet. She founded The Emerging Writers Reading Series in 2012 and is the fiction editor of Little Brother Magazine. She's released two chapbooks of poetry, And Then Everyone: Poems of the West End (Picture Window Press, 2014) and Never Stop (Anstruther Press, 2014). This October, her first collection of short stories, Pauls, was published by BookThug. The title story from the collection, "Paul," received the 2013 Gold Fiction National Magazine Award. Jess is currently at work on a second collection, a novel, and a continuation of her life poem, Never Stop.

You can contact Jess throughout the month of February at

Go to Jess Taylor’s Author Page