“In effect, the cost of being who you are is that you can’t possibly meet everyone’s expectations, and so, there will, inevitably, be external conflict to deal with—the friction of being visible. Still, the cost of not being who you are is that while you are busy pleasing everyone around you, a precious part of you is dying inside; in this case, there will be internal conflict to deal with—the friction of being invisible.” ~ Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
This is the whipsaw of writing with the aim of publication. If you prune and polish your writing for someone else, you will still inevitable disappoint someone. You will write about a subject that they consider theirs. You will write in a style that is alien to some, too imitative to others. Despite all your efforts to create a piece of writing to win a prize or be published in a long admired literary magazine, you will disappoint someone. And even if you succeed with your goal, there will be someone eager to take you down a peg. This is the friction of being visible.
Of course, as you set out your scalpels, deciding what parts of your work must be trimmed away to conform to the aesthetic du jour, you must decide how far you are willing to go. If right now kitten poems written in rhyming couplets are being published in astonishing numbers, are you willing to revise your villanelle about puppies to gain favor? Are you willing to make your real self, with its quirky passions and talents, invisible in order to be published?
This is not a new conflict. It’s not a conflict faced by writers and poets alone. But, in this new social media-ted world, we are exposed to each writer’s successes, the publications, the awards. Of course we want those accolades, and because of the speed of the digital world, we think that everyone is winning and we alone are writing our puppy villanelles in obscurity. I can only tell you that the quickest way to crash into the phenomenon that some call writer’s block is to write what you think gain favor with an editor, or a reviewer, or even the mythical “public.”
Better to potter along, reading deeply about subjects that interest you, working to improve your work through revision into the best example of itself. I am not suggesting that publication is bad. Being part of the conversation, finding readers to whom your words will matter, connecting beyond yourself are some of the amazing benefits of publication. But write what matters to you first, then find the place where those words fit. Not the other way around.