On Not Publishing

There’s a trap that’s easy to fall into once you start getting into writing for money or publishing in general: looking at every creative endeavor you tinker with as having that goal.

My good friend Paul Tevis & had a short exchange this morning:

Being publicly recognized for your creative work can make it harder to do creative work that isn’t as public. #InternetMicroFame
12/5/12 10:47 AM
@ptevis It can create that “well, I suppose I could publish this thing I’m noodling on” sense.
12/5/12 10:48 AM
@RyanMacklin Or keep you working on something that you should stop.
12/5/12 11:18 AM

Not every story needs to be published. Not every game idea needs to be turned into a “product.” Not every hack needs to be polished up. There is fruit in all the creative labor that we do, not just those things that turn into something you can download on DriveThruRPG or have a Kickstarter for.

It’s hard to say what should or shouldn’t be published, and I’m not going to shame someone by saying “oh, that should have just stayed unpublished.” This idea is about a creator understanding what you actually want to do with a project. Sometimes, it’s just a creative outlet that is just to be enjoyed. Other times, it’s something meant to be thrown out into the world. Knowing what you actually want out of a project is key to lasting satisfaction.

Naturally, your priorities could change over time. Also worth recognizing. Sometimes the effort of publishing isn’t what you want to deal with for a project that was just about enjoying a few moments of creation.

What are your thoughts? Are there projects that you’ve done that you’ve intentionally said “I’m not going to publish this, and I’m happy with it”?

– Ryan


9 Responses to On Not Publishing

  1. Jonathan says:

    Yup! Totally think that’s a good idea.

    I was happy with not publishing Monster: The Noun, though it had felt like a bit of an albatross around the neck. Now I’m putting some of it up on the blog and kind of laughing at it going “Yeah, this isn’t worth publishing.” But I’m actually very glad that I’m not bothering with that anymore.

  2. Dave T. Game says:

    I think there’s a lot of value in knowing when not to publish something. Just the fact that you’ve gone through a lot of work to create it doesn’t mean it’s worth publishing either. Being able to judge your best ideas that do have enough of an audience to develop further is very important.

    I’ve even seen projects that have been rushed to market, and made money. If that’s the model you want as a creator, fine, but I believe there’s something important about releasing projects that you know you’ll stand behind for a long time. You’re not just potentially releasing projects that have no long term viability, you’re damaging your reputation, and showing that you’re more concerned about getting stuff out there then putting your best stuff out there.

  3. James Brown says:

    Publishing made creating un-fun for me. So I stopped publishing.

  4. Lenny Balsera says:

    I have an entire slush file devoted to projects I intend never to publish, in various states of completion.

    Mainly, I need to have those projects so that I can occasionally work on stuff where I am not crushed by my own desire for perfectionism.

  5. Jared Nelson says:


    You kind of freaked me out when you wrote this one. I’ve been thinking about this very thing lately.

    Being the noob that I am, at least to the professional side of game publishing, how does one know when something’s meant to be just for you versus when its meant to be for everyone?

    My instinct, again noob here, is to do exactly what you say I shouldn’t. Part of it is my business background too. I look at everything (really) to see if it can’t be done better, or how it could be turned into a product.

    And at the risk of sounding like a soulless capitalist, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all, provided you’re doing it for the right reasons. Chasing $$$ isn’t the right reason, but looking for ways that you can improve lives certainly is, even if its just creating something people can enjoy.

    Anyhow, great post man. Thanks.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      First of all…

      Chasing $$$ isn’t the right reason,

      As someone who is making somewhere between a quarter and a third of my own software engineering paycheck, and without benefits, your statement there is 100% correct. :)

      To answer your question, it’s not easy. Part of the journey of publishing is getting to where you understand the difference between when to and when not to — and the problem I speak of is more of an issue for those who are in publishing.

      how does one know when something’s meant to be just for you versus when its meant to be for everyone?

      I know of no way to answer this question in general. It takes experience to know if you personally think something is just for you, or for your friends, or for the wider world. And if it’s something worth charging for (and ideally putting more effort in to, including after the game is done and released).

      And as there are different forms of publishing — a blog post or forum thread versus a PDF release vs a shiny hardcover book, and places in between — that allows one to decide “okay, it’s worth this amount of my effort and I’ll have fun if I don’t go past that.”

      Part of the reason I did Mythender as a ransom for cancer is that I want it done and released (and need to finish the damned thing) without making it something I’m compelled to maintain and put further effort into when it comes to art and printed volumes.

      So, here’s the contrary advice: if you’re new, experiment and try publishing. If mid-process you find you hate it, stop. (Though, it’s not really contrary, as this is a different situation.)

      – Ryan

    • Jared Nelson says:

      Thanks for the response, Ryan. Both pieces of advice are really helpful.

  6. JDCorley says:

    I never publish anything, I’m the coolest of all.


    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Sorry, Jason, you’re a sellout now. You just published that comment.

      – Lord Macklin