There are few cliche things that authors hear a lot. People mean well and a lot of these phrases do hold some truths, but they’re also really annoying, especially when you’re stressing about meeting deadlines, depressed about rejections and feel like you’re gaining no ground, stressed about balancing time so you can get out some word count, irritable about promoting and trying to get people’s attention…
The one thing I’ve heard time and again is an oldie but a goodie: “Well, chin up, I know it’s frustrating but a writer writes for themselves, right?”
I hate this. I really, really hate this phrase or any variation of it. With a burning, vile passion.
Here’s the thing. Yes, yes it is true…to a point. You should absolutely write for yourself, because doing anything hoping to get famous/rich/laid/noticed isn’t going to work. People see that a mile away, or eventually get wise. Likewise, you need to be happy with what you’re doing or else it’s just going to make you miserable. Hell, it’ll make you miserable enough even if you’re happy with what you’re doing – any sort of love, even the artistic kind, isn’t perfect. I totally agree that you shouldn’t sit down just to please others or feel like you should turn your craft a certain way in the hopes to game the market or make an impact on certain people.
Part of the issue is “A writer writes for themselves” takes away whole chunks of an artist’s emotional background and what may have led them to write. Let’s face it, we all have our reasons beyond being inspired by books and stories. Maybe you were bullied. Maybe you want to prove something to that English teacher who said your essays were crap. Maybe thee was an early influence that you want to live up to or seek validation from. Maybe you have a lurking memory of a significant other or a family member who didn’t get why you wasted time on a hobby when you weren’t going to be JK Rowling any time soon. We all have those moments, and while you shouldn’t carry them with you all the time, let’s be real. They push us on and there’s probably always a tiny, tiny bit of us that keeps plunging ahead to show our entire past that we can do this, no matter what this is.
No, you shouldn’t write because of all those people, but they exist, just the same. Plus, I don’t know many people who are so completely comfortable with themselves that they never think about those people again or don’t have a slight stab of glee if they do get to prove themselves in the end. It’s human nature.
“A writer writes for themselves” also doesn’t take into account the nature of the market. Readers are looking for what they want to read, after all. I love that some of these head-patters are also the same people who will say “well, I’d read your book but it’s not really my thing…” A writer writers for themselves after all, so this shouldn’t be disappointing, even if you hear it twenty, fifty, a hundred plus times. And you will. There are so many choices these days, that while I don’t agree with trying to write to the market (because it often changes too fast to game and attempting to do so produces shoddy work), I get why people try to write to certain genres or certain tastes. Believe me, I get it. It’s hard putting your heart out there and waiting for someone to show up, trusting that it’ll happen eventually.
“A writer writes for themselves” also devalues the whole artistic experience. It’s not enough to just put something out there, there has to be someone reading it for it to mean something. Sure, I could write down all my stories in a notebook and put them away, but I want to do this for a living. I want to share with people…and that sharing has been part of storytelling from the beginning of time. You don’t hear people saying “well a doctor heals for themselves” or “A chef cooks for themselves” or “a teacher teaches for themselves” because that’s stupid. That makes no sense and with some professions would be considered selfish. Yet somehow, in the artistic fields, we’re supposed to be so secure that we do this for no reason and definitely don’t have the gall to expect anything from it. The worst thing in the world would be for no one to ever experience the ideas in my head, that would negate what I feel is part of my purpose for even being here.
I applaud those people who say they don’t care if people read their work or if it doesn’t make them a zillion dollars…I understand the latter more than the former. Why would you even publish your work if you’re that apathetic about people reading it? I don’t get it. Writers write for readers to read. What’s so hard to understand here?
While I get that the phrase is supposed to empower authors to do their own thing, it’s turned into this “there, there” excuse any time an author complains about the market, or how hard it is to balance promotion and writing, or how frustrating it is to have their work ignored. Somehow these well-meaning people never think to take the next step and offer to read their work or tell their friends or post reviews or whatever…it comes down to platitudes that don’t fit the situation. “It’ll all be okay,” “Well, you know how the market is,” “There’s only so many best-sellers,” “Why don’t you write something like this other author/do what this other person did?”
There’s no magic formula. It all takes a ton of hard work, and for some reason people don’t like to see that. They like the magical feel of someone making it, but they don’t necessarily want to comprehend how much it takes or how much they could be helping. I don’t want consolation or head pats or shrugs or platitudes. I want help, I want chatter, I want people to notice, I want people to love my writing. I don’t want my hard work to be brushed aside with “well, you just have to remember that a writer writes for themselves” and have the conversation turned back to whatever it is normal people feel comfortable talking about.
I do write for myself, by the way. I love my worlds and the characters that inhabit them. I adore the plots that rattle around in my twisted little noggin. This isn’t me being bitter or creatively worn out or anything of the sort – I simply feel like the phrase is overused and used in the wrong context.
My ideas and my stories are my own and are born out of an intense love of ideas and what if’s. I don’t pull many punches and I definitely have a sideways view of things that end up influencing my plots and characters. However, I also write for you, because I want you to think and feel outside of your comfort zone. I write for the person who wants to escape for a little bit, for the horror addict who wants to be chilled, for the vampire fan who wants something different, for the faerie tale fan who wants something new, for all of those who want something a little sideways than the other things on their shelves. I write for me, but I also write for the world, for everyone, and for anyone who is willing to take a look.
Who do you write for, besides yourself? What’s a typical platitude that you’re tired of hearing in regard to your work?