Articles on this site teach you to write for publication. You learn what the market is looking for, how to tailor your writing to a particular publication, how to make the most out of each article you write, etc.
However, you might want to occasionally write something without intending it for publication.
There are a lot of pluses when you aren’t writing to sell. You can write for the exercise, to experiment, to learn new styles, or just for fun.
In fact, my first Hollywood sale was a script I wrote knowing it could never sell.
In the early days of VeggieTales, a friend and I were chatting about those wonderful videos. My friend threw me for a loop when he said, “Too bad they are so limited.”
He explained that the videos were primarily retelling Bible stories for children, yet so many parts of the Bible are adults only—like the story of David and Bathsheba.
I took that as a dare. I would write a VeggieTales script based on that story of lust, murder, violence, and repentance. VeggieTales producers were not accepting outside submissions anyway, so anything I wrote would be un-sellable.
It would, however, challenge my writing in both content and format. While I had written many plays, I had never written a script for video.
I forced myself to retain the juicy parts that seemed most unfriendly to kids, including the bathing on the roof scene and King David’s sending Uriah to war. I wouldn’t have included those segments if I wanted to sell the script. But, since this script couldn’t be sold anyway, there was no chance to offend the market.
I knuckled down and found a way to remove the sexuality and violence while keeping the principles intact. Bathsheba became a rubber ducky (thank you Ernie from Sesame Street!), and the war became a pie throwing battle.
It was a good exercise, stretching my imagination and forcing me to be creative. It introduced me to the concept of writing for the camera. And it helped me win a bet.
All because I wrote something without intending to sell it.
And then I sold it. But that’s a story for another day.
What writing challenge do you need to take on—even though it may not ever get sold? What’s holding you back?
Sean Gaffney is a playwright, screenwriter, director, teacher, and producer. He has authored 20 produced plays, two television pilots, three published books, as well as more than 40 produced videos, animation projects, and short films (including for Big Idea, SuperBook, Yake Films, and Globalstage). He received his BFA from Drake University, his MFA from Columbia University, and graduated from the Act One: Writing for Hollywood program. Sean’s day job is as Story Administrator for Warner Bros. Features.