Writing for Yourself vs. Writing For Others

This week on Sunday Versus I’d like to discuss how I view writing for yourself, as opposed to writing for your readers/audience.  Specifically I’d like to focus on creative writing instead of blogging, writing articles, or non-fiction writing.

To start off, I’m going to direct you to a great article called Why You Should Write First for Yourself.  If you’re in a rush it basically breaks down 3 reasons to write for yourself.

1. It releases you from the temptation to entertain.
2. It allows you to be honest and transparent in your writing.
3. It gives you a chance to communicate your unique message.

Those are three major points that, as writers, I think it’s important for us to keep in mind.  Sometimes we can be swept away with ideas of writing the ‘next big thing’, or find ourselves falling for a genre-trap just to get our feet through the door.  Have you guys seen all the supernatural/vampire novels being published?  It’s in high demand, and what a lot of publishers are looking for provided your writing is edgy, or the story is full of page-turning drama.

And hey, if you’re writing a supernatural novel with action and tension, and you’re taking your time to do it right, then that’s great.  Just make sure you aren’t rushing it.  Take your time to tell the story that you want to tell.  A gripping can’t-put-it-down novel is great, but is it best for what you want to say?

Too much these days I feel like it’s all the rage to write gripping, fast-paced, page-turners. From Dan Brown to Suzanne Collins and J.K.Rowling.  What happened to savoring a well written novel with delicately laced layers of meaning?  Where every word serves a specific purpose?  Why isn’t that popular?  I know why.  It’s because we live in a world where we can connect instantly to people around the globe, where nobody can be far enough ahead of each other, and you can never have too many things on your list of things to do.

So maybe that is where the theory that if we want our writing heard, we must write for the readers, comes from.  After all, if we have a message to say, a story to tell, we have to do our best to get out into the world.  Perhaps that’s the mindset you have to be in to want to write for your readers.  Wake Up and Write For Your Existing Readers is an article that promotes that way of thinking.

In a way, I can understand it.  The majority of what I write, isn’t written with a certain message in mind.  It isn’t written to be read by the masses.  In most cases my current writing is me practicing, playing with vocabulary, characters, settings, and style.

But when an idea comes along, that you can’t help but believe it’s meant to be heard by many, why wouldn’t you try to write it in a way that readers will warm up to?  It’s still you controlling how the story and the message turns out, even if you tweak it here and there for readers.

For me, though, it does make a difference.  Yes, I want to write something that people can relate to and enjoy.  I will have an editor and beta-readers for my first completed MS.  I’ll take into account what they think will help improve my novel–But only if I agree.

I don’t write to transform the world or other people. I write to help transform myself.  With each piece of writing I work on, I learn more about myself and take away much more than I think my readers will.  I admit, even this blog was created a bit selfishly.  I encourage discussions and opinions from readers not just to motivate your thinking and writing, but also to broaden my own knowledge and views.

Most of the time when I browse other peoples blogs, I feel so inexperienced in comparison.  Although I may not have the most original or informative topics to post about, I hope through talking to others on this blog, that at least one of us will walk away with just a bit more insight on writing.

So, on that note, I’m going to end this by asking: Who do you write for?  Am I too harsh on those who write for others, or should we be balancing both sides in our writing?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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About Aly Hughes
Unprofessional, unedited, unpublished. Aly is out to make a name for herself by blogging, twittering, facebooking, and general internet-ing. Be warned: She may not know what she's talking about.

18 Responses to Writing for Yourself vs. Writing For Others

  1. Angelo says:

    Well-said. I agree; we live in a world where having more to do makes us feel more important. We’re bombarded with messages that we must connect instantly. I disagree. Like you mentioned, sometimes each word, each friendship, and each love is best when it slowly comes to a boil and simmers forever. Writing is too personal (even commercial writing) to fall prey to the trend of the day and every project has to be treated separately.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I love the phrase “slowly comes to a boil and simmers forever.” Some times things just should not be rushed. Although I do enjoy the authors I mentioned, with engaging page-turning novels, I do not, however, enjoy all the poorly, hastily written books that try to copy the plots/formats. 🙂

  2. I liked your arguments for writing for yourself. I think I fall somewhere in between. I write because I can’t help but do so, but I also write for the kid I used to be – the one who liked writers like Madeline L’Engle and J.R.R. Tolkien who took me on a fantastical adventure that I could escape into. My dream is to write something that someone reads and forgets that they’re reading a book. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by my blog! It’s always fun to meet a fellow writer.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      And thank you for stopping by my blog as well!

      I love that you said you write for the kid you used to be! I also think it would be wonderful to have written a story that people can truly escape into. I grew up reading Tolkien and L’Engle as well. They definitely had a knack for transporting readers to other worlds. 🙂

  3. Sara Flower says:

    Great topic! I generally do write for myself, but I do end up thinking about the reader at times. I do hope to inspire or touch everyone who reads my books, even if it is in a small way. But I write what I love rather than trying to follow a trend.

    Happy writing!

    • Aly Hughes says:

      Thanks for the comment! The biggest part, for me, is that a lot of what I currently write is just me exploring, it isn’t specifically written to be published or read. However, I think I could definitely change, the more serious I get about being published. There’s a big when you shift into trying to reach out to people through your writing. 🙂

  4. Interesting article. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I think you can write a more mainstream novel if you wish that may be less layered in technique and more writing to genre. It might be writing to the dollar but it’s just another form of writing. I suppose that could also be fun, not everyone can be the most technical and literate writer no matter how much they write. Plus not everyone wants to be transformed, they may just want some time away from their lives.There is nothing wrong with being entertained.

    On the other hand of course it is nice to have something less mainstream and a bit more of the writer in it. It is nice to read something that seems more personal, or more difficult. It’s nice to read something with the rhythms of language. But It is just something different.

    If you are learning it can be fun to play with different styles of writing e.g. story, diary, factual, viewpoint, and so on. You can gain different lessons or inspirations by doing this. What I think is that if you want to learn to write, or to improve yourself and your writing, you need to avoid the snobbish part of writing. That there is some kind of imaginary scale with amazingly technical and heartfelt writing at the top and some kind of plot driven thriller near the bottom.

    The article you directed us to was also interesting if you want to write from that viewpoint, but he also added a point I do not agree with. He states “If you are truly communicating — and not merely entertaining — you need to challenge people.” – Well no you you are not, there is no such thing as “truly communicating”. You either communicate or you do not. You do not have to challenge people to communicate, that is just a form of communicating, and I’m certainly not stating there is anything wrong with that, and certainly not against challenging people. But context please, people can communicate while entertaining. The Dan Brown book “The Da Vinci code” is a good example. Personally I don’t think it much more than a reasonable, if totally nonsense thriller. However it did get people talking and interested in the (fictional) theories, and what might be. That in a simple form, however much people, myself included, are not fond of Dan Brown, is communicating. And I dare say however cringe worthy it may be, that it transformed a few people in some ways too. – Oh and try “truly communicating” to a small child, you’ll see why that phrase is cobblers.

    So I say as a person writing, and also trying to improve, and find my voice if you like, just like you are, that we need to try and avoid the snobbishness in writing. I’m definitely not having a go at you here. Writing for yourself is cool, definitely a good way of trying to find “the soul” of a piece, however we all need to find the angle that works for us. In my blog I know that some of the posts are pretty much just fluff (but in my blog there is kind of a point to that). Actually I should add a final point, people read in different ways. Some people just don’t read for the beauty of the language, or the rhythm, they just want to get caught up in a plot or a character. There is beauty in that too.

    Anyway, great topic, and I like your blog.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      First off, thank you for writing such an engaging reply! I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts.

      There are a lot of contradictions that come about when looking at writing for yourself and others. For example, I didn’t address blog posts and articles, etc, because for those I definitely keep my audience in mind when writing.

      I actually do agree about taking the snobbishness out of writing! I must admit, my views can be a bit elitist at times, studying English Literature in college did nothing to help that. 😉 Ironically, I read and enjoy all three of the popular authors I used as examples. I think, however, that when writing for yourself vs others, it does come down to how much YOU care about the story, what you are saying, and how you are saying it.

      And you’re absolutely right, people read and write for very different reasons. Twilight is perhaps the easiest example to use for this. That series is read mostly as an escape, for entertainment purposes. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s why the books were written in the first place. Stephenie Meyer stands behind her books, she’s proud of them and they mean a lot to her. Who am I to judge her for being so passionate about the story she wanted to tell?

      For me, I think the topic is so important because right now I’m writing as a way to develop and find myself. I’m only in the beginning stages of my first novel, and it’s very personal, dealing with a lot of situations that I’ve been in. As I continue to write and move on to other topics and themes, my views will most likely change. But what it boils down to, is that yes, I would absolutely love to have my writing published and read. However, I don’t write TO get published, I write because it’s what I want to do, regardless of if I have an audience. Does that make sense?

      Also, I do see what you’re saying about the article and it’s view on entertaining/communicating. I think when you’re intending to share your writing with others it’s okay to entertain. And I agree on your views of communication. Language is based on being able to communicate, no matter how we use it.

      And again, thank you for a great comment, and I’m glad you enjoy my blog. 🙂

      • I don’t think I realised how much the snobbishness in writing bothered me until recently! Writing is a very broad field and the quality of it is varied. The idea of communicating is obviously the key notion but as we’ve discussed, the quibbling about what communication is introduces this awful snobbishness. Now I’ll admit to it myself, for example correcting others grammar, however it is something I try to watch myself on these days. Take a look at some olde English writings and you can see how the basics are there but the language has changed a lot, so language changes all the time.

        I would agree that writing for yourself (i.e. for you) would be a good approach for the project you are working on. If anything the thing you may need to concentrate on is the editing. Putting a lot of you in but then taking some out so it serves the piece rather than just your needs. It is difficult though.

        My blog is all writing for myself really. Some time ago I used to run a sometime blog themed around writing but for various reasons I didn’t have the time then to maintain it. The blog I run now is mainly for me to get something down each day, it is purely an exercise for me to do daily. It is about me finding what to put down each day and it is already starting to evolve to the point where I want to attempt some small stories based on a strict daily time limit and some improvisation, as a part of the blog. However, some days it will just be a bit diary like, or some thoughts or opinions, on something or other. But that is kind of the point. It is a new blog, it is evolving and finding itself, but it is totally separate from some other projects I am writing of (context see!).

        • Aly Hughes says:

          What I’ve found recently is that I’ll start reading novels, and enjoy the plot and characters, but hate the writing style. The love of the setting and the story will keep me reading it, but I’ll still sit there and critique the voice and such. When I come across something like that, I’m bound to wonder why they don’t just make the book into a movie and get rid of the shady narration!

          You’re right about putting a lot of myself into my writing. I’m not very far in the manuscript, but I’ve already had to step back a few times and change behaviors/ characteristics so they don’t completely mirror my own. I think the most challenging part is writing the dialogue and actually giving each character their own voice. Luckily the girlfriend of a good friend of mine has offered to edit it when I’m done. She’s a reader and a writer, and will graduate with a B.A. in Creative Writing this May. I’ve only met her briefly once, so we’re obviously not close. She won’t be afraid to point out when/where I’ve put too much of myself into the novel, etc.

          haha! Context definitely must be taken into account. When I write a blog post I do keep my audience in mind, such as thinking of topics that would interest them, and making pop culture references that they will most likely be able to understand. That’s because this particular blog is to help myself and other writers discover and explore the craft. In that way I want to engage, and really get people discussing the topics I post about. Whereas, the short fiction I post on here is to give people an insight into my own writing style, and present examples of what I sometimes post about in the discussion blog posts. They are presented for an audience on here, but they weren’t necessarily written for one. So, it differs on my own blog as well.

          • I have to admit I try and switch between a fiction book and a non-fiction book, partially for the “stepping back” experience but also because I like a non-fiction also. Reading fiction I often have to decide how fast to read it. By this I mean if I read a bit slower I’m taking into account more of the written word, style, rhythm, words chosen etc. If I read a bit faster, I’m more just taking in the plot and dialogue and not too much of the technique. At the moment the fiction I’m reading is the game of thrones books (off the back of the series). These are so long that I have to go more for the latter technique otherwise one of those books is going to take nine months to read! Plus he has what seems like 100,000 different names for knights so I get a bit lost with who is who at times. But on the other hand he is decent with his main characters and the super long stories and back stories they have, so it’s hard not to admire (and I was never really interested in the “medieval” type books).

            This whole blog thing is interesting in the many ways it can be used. It gives an “out there” voice to people and it covers practically anything. There is lots of rubbish and some good ones. I think mine covers both (!) but as I mentioned above that is it for me, the point is minimal edit (and therefore the learning). I was going to do the writing exercise just on my laptop but I decided to up the stakes by putting it into a blog. Blogs put what would have been in the past, in a diary, notepad or even just in ones head, out into the world. You can literally attempt use it anyway you want.

            I will try to read some of your past posts in the next week or so I can see your short fiction.

  5. I have a friend who’s been a profesional writer since 1972, and he’s just written a paranormal romance novel, because that’s what publishers are buying these days. Before he started writing, he studied the market, and read a lot of paranormal romance novels.

    Me, I’m an amateur, so I don’t do that. 🙂

    I write genre, but not in a specific genre, but that’s fine because I’m not trying to sell it to a publisher. I don’t think the temptation to entertain is bad, though. I definitely try to entertain, but according to my definition of what’s entertaining.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      haha, that last part made me laugh! I definitely try to make my writing entertaining for myself as well. And hey, if others enjoy it too, that’s fantastic.

      I don’t think I’d be able to write a compelling novel if I wasn’t enthusiastic and excited about the story. I’m not that great of a writer! But, I’m definitely not a professional, and your friend sounds very experienced and smart about his writing.

  6. Eric Storch says:

    Wonderful article!

    I write stories that I want to read but haven’t found yet. They’re for me and if someone else enjoys them that’s just a bonus.

    I haven’t been published – I’ve never tried. Don’t really care to. I even started a blog that was mostly just for the fun of it and to see how it all worked. I never expected people to actually visit the site, let alone read my writing and comment on it.

    I’ll admit to being tempted to begin writing things that others may want to read. But to me, that involves getting inside someone else’s head and I’m quite stuck in my own, thank you very much.

    I’ll continue to write for me and if others want to come along for the ride, the more the merrier!

    • Aly Hughes says:

      Thank you for the comment, and I’m glad I’m not alone in writing for myself!

      Have you considered self-publishing at all? It would leave you mostly in control of everything, and then you really wouldn’t have to get into another’s head! 😉

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