I've been keeping a writer's notebook of one sort or another for the better part of 40 years now and probably have tens of thousands of pages of nonsense, most of which is mouldering in my storage locker outside of Seattle, some of tucked in my desk at school and others in safety vaults and storage boxes all around the planet.
Truth be told, most of what I write is inane: my guess would be that at least 80% of it is detritus. But there's gold in "them thar hills," and the job of a writer is to keep writing no matter what, and then be willing to sift through the rubble and find the flecks of gold.
I'm not saying everything I publish is anywhere near the gold standard or even silver: most of it is more like costume jewelry, in fact. But then again there's nothing wrong with a bit of flashy, cheap jewelry that attracts attention and looks pretty. I'm not looking to be the best of the best (I'll save that for the likes of John Irving and Alice Munro), but I am looking to entertain and put out some modicum of literature that does not prove distracting by its poor punctuation, prosaic by its over baked metaphorical allusions or just plain predictable and banal.
Because, yes, I write for myself, but I also write for an audience. Those 10s of 1000s of pages mostly deserve to be buried under the volcanic ash of unwanted paraphernalia in my storage locker, but some of it also deserves to see the light of day and to be seen by the enlightened reader.
So I tell my students to let go of their monkey minds and let their pencils bleed onto their writer's notebooks or their fingers tap onto their google docs as the case may be, but not to censor, just to write. The hard work is what comes later: the editing, the culling, the finessing. I love that part too. How gratifying it is to watch a piece evolve from so-so to stellar; how great is it when you can toss out all those tired metaphors and replace them with figurative language that sucker-punches you with its vicissitude rather than simply "jumps off the page?"
I'm all about just getting it down, throwing a lot of it out, finding the shiny gems that glimmer when exposed to just the right light, polishing them up a bit, and getting them out to whatever person who happens to stumble upon my humble attempts at writing. I'm all for getting my students to do this as well!
Because what is writing for if not to share?