More than a year ago, I read Seth Adam Smith’s “Marriage Isn’t For You” article and loved it. (And for those of you who haven’t read it, I recommend clicking the link.) In the article, Seth’s dad tells him, “You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy.” What if the same concept applied to writing? If we played a bit of Mad Libs here with the sentence: “You don’t write to make yourself happy, you write to make someone else happy.”
I’ve often wondered whether writing is supposed to serve the author or the reader. Sure, it’s a pretty extremist view on the subject. But if you had to choose, what would you say? What’s more important – what the reader wants or what the writer wants? Sometimes lightning strikes and the two equal one another. In an ideal world, both interests would always be the same. Everything writers wrote would be loved by everyone and no one would object to anything we typed and sent out to the world and rainbows and magical unicorns and all that.
However, that type of “idealized world” would not be fair to either readers or writers. No writer can predict with complete accuracy whether the writing will resonate with readers, and no reader can guarantee to love (or even like) all writing. There’s this bridge that a lot of writers are always trying to cross. That’s why we read our reviews; that’s why we pay attention to articles about how to improve our writing. There’s a sense of satisfaction knowing we’ve improved our craft, yes, but there’s also the satisfaction of knowing we’re closer to pleasing our readers.
Let me take an honest step back here. I would love to say that my goal is to satisfy my readers 100% of the time. Frankly, I tend to write most of my stories without thinking about a certain target audience or even an audience at all. I’ve read a lot of articles discouraging against this practice, but for me that’s when the words flow easiest and when my voice sounds most authentic. Writing is my favorite form of expression, and sometimes it’s the kind of expression that doesn’t always come with a trendy genre or a target word count.
A lot of the stories I write haven’t been published and probably never will be. Before I published any of my work, writing always seemed like a pretty selfish venture to me. I write the stories I want to read, and there are certain stories I don’t want to release into the world. The reason may be because they’re too personal, too dark, too what-have-you-insert-excuse-here.
Yet I do read my reviews. I do try to improve my writing. As a reader, I try to be conscious while editing that “Oh, this isn’t something I’d want to see in a book” means it’s gotta go whether or not the creative side of me wants to keep the element in my story. Most of the stories I write are ones that I’d love to release out into the world. Because of this, I know that I need to be aware of how readers will respond to all aspects of my novel (not necessarily how attached I may be to an irrelevant character).
There is no right or wrong answer to the debate. Writers could still exist without readers. We can value our own writing and keep it private and not share it with anyone… but there’s also a lot of writers (myself included) who appreciate nothing more than putting a story out there for readers to enjoy.
Writing isn’t just for you. Yes, you are the one who decides what to write, but your reader decides how to perceive your work and critique your writing. And from the reader’s perspective, writing isn’t just for you either. Writers will still write whatever the heck they want, whether or not you hate it or love it.
Writing isn’t for you; it’s for everyone.