Writing Isn’t For You

typography-370More 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.

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8 thoughts on “Writing Isn’t For You

  1. I think there is definitely something to be said for writing for both the readers and yourself. But you’re right people have different tastes – a book I gave a 2 star review to has also a multitude of 5 star reviews. Each reader obviously gets something different and expects something different from anything they read.

    This argument resonates throughout most creative industries – in fact it is almost constant within burlesque – are you performing for yourself, the audience or both and what is the correct version/proportion of that.

    I think something that applies to all creativity is to do something you love and feel passionate about – in the end if you have done it because it’s something you enjoy then someone of similar tastes should theoretically also enjoy it.

    1. Right? As writers, it’s impossible for us to try to please all readers – but that doesn’t stop us from trying! I agree with what you said about producing what you love. Maybe every writer’s “true” target audience is someone similar to themselves, because someone similar can appreciate the work like the writer does.

  2. I think you have to write for yourself, but if you publish that has to be for a readership. Maybe part of editing should be reading what you’ve written as a reader to see what will work and what won’t in what you’ve created.

  3. I’m quite new at blogging and have read so many articles recently about writing what the audience wants to read. I like your approach. We are most authentic when we write about things we know about or are inspired to do at the time. And yes, that is when the words flow the easiest. I agree, in this vast world, there will be readers who will enjoy our work.

    1. And there’s so many writers and readers for each type of genre/idea/plot too. Our published work keeps the audience in mind, but at the end of the day I think each of us would still be writing with or without the audience.

  4. Love this post, Pema! I think in the first draft, it’s a really personal experience. After that though, I want to make sure that my writing is something for everyone, and keep my readers in mind. I love the idea of my book meaning something to someone. I can’t wait to have that experience!

    Thank you for your awesome words.

    Best,
    Jenny Bravo
    http://www.blotsandplots.com

    1. It can definitely be a struggle trying to balance both sometimes, but it’s part of the process. I’m sure your book will. I look forward to reading more about your writing!

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