Why Would Anyone Want to Read What You Have to Say?
Why being selfish is the only way to write.
Writing is an artistic endeavor. That might seem ridiculously apparent to many, still some might argue that it is closer to being a craft, like woodworking. But in the bigger realm of things, it is clearly an art form. You are creating stories from nothing, painting a blank canvas with words. That, to me, is art.
Of course there is the self-doubt and the shaky confidence that comes with being a writer on any level. And with this, as every workshop facilitator will likely tell you, comes this question:
Who are you writing for?
They say you must know your audience and write to that group, those readers. Target them.
But I say forget that.
There is only one way to write. Write for yourself. You are your audience. Write for you alone.
Jennifer duBois, the author of The Spectator and A Partial History of Lost Causes was asked recently in an interview on the website LitHub how a writer deals with the hubris of believing that they have something important to say. “You (the author) are going to read that book so many more times than anyone else ever will.” she answered. “You might as well enjoy yourself.” Hopefully, there will be a lot more readers than just the author. But she is right. A writer needs to write for themselves first. You, after all, are going to be your biggest critic.
Writing should be and always will be a selfish act. It is meant to be. It is singular, and insular, and feeds an introvert’s soul. It is the art of the loner. This is not to say all writers are recluses, although we have had a few greats ones. To be clear, writing is the work of one — a singular mind finding its way. There has been so much said about how this isolated process is filled with unbearable angst, partially because of the solitude it can require. And I’m reminded of the quote so often attributed to Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” But my guess is Hemingway loved his work and rarely felt as if his writing was akin to wounding himself. Plus, as we all know, Hemingway was far from antisocial. In the end, I believe Hemingway and so many other greats of then and now would agree that trying to figure out what interests someone else, what exact elements will draw the most readers to your story, is a formula for failure.
Still, writing is only truly art when it is communal. It must be shared. So, yes, write for yourself, but then allow your words to find their way into the world. Make it the best story you can and then offer it up. From a simple blog post to a published book, writing is only complete when it becomes a public entity. But first, before it flies away, it must be yours and yours alone.
Writing for yourself — to entertain and satisfy you — is a natural human inclination. When I first started to write seriously, this is how I proceeded. It worked well for my genre — memoir and essay. Then a friend asked me after my first two books were published, “Why don’t you write a mystery? Mysteries sell.” My short answer: “I don’t want to write a mystery.” My friend offered a quizzical look. Why wiukd i not wantvto write a book that sells? I’ve heard workshop speakers talk about the need to write in the most popular genre of the day if you really want to to get your work published. And a former agent of mine who at the time was trying to sell the manuscript of my memoir about fatherhood — Any Road Will Take You There — jokingly wondered if I should write a few vampires into the story to help make it interesting to a potential publisher. This was during the frenzy over the Twilight book series. I’m happy to say my memoir was eventually published without the addition of vampires.
If you are still not convinced that writing selfishly is the best way to go, consider this: How would you feel about a painter who found artistic joy in the possibility of creating impressionistic oil landscapes or Jackson Pollock-like experimentations, but instead painted only watercolor dog portraits because that’s what the artist believed the people at the local craft fair really wanted to buy?
Doesn’t that sound sad?
It does to me.