Always Write for Yourself

Months back, I started to openly question why I still wrote.  Books weren’t selling and I can’t do any publishing at this time.  That’s both a financial and situational thing that I hope will be remedied.  Anyway, there was a common phrase that got sent my way to ‘answer’ my question:

‘Write for yourself’

I’ve always been on the fence about this concept because of how it gets presented.  I’ve seen it used a lot as a ‘positive support’ phrase.  An author who is doubting their path will be thrown this chestnut to create some sense of determination.  I never really saw how this works in this situation.  If a person wants to sell their books, but nobody is buying then it doesn’t help to be told to keep writing for themselves.  In fact, that seems to cause more frustration because it comes off as saying only the author will like their own work.  That or people shouldn’t care about having an audience, which I noticed came from those who still manage to sell things.

The other time I see the phrase is when people are discussing how to aim for a specific audience.  Some authors will say to write for yourself first.  This is the use that I kind of agree with.  If an author is entertained and emotionally invested in their story then that will come through in the words.  You have to enjoy and believe in what you’re doing, right?  If you’re only writing solely to appeal to strangers without your own interests and emotions in mind then you have a higher chance of creating an empty husk of a story.  Unlike movies, a book can’t depend on CGI-filled action scenes and rapid fire one-liners to hide a flimsy plot.  So, you really should write for yourself along with appealing to an audience.

Overall, I think ‘write for yourself’ is a phrase that has fallen into the same category as ‘show don’t tell’, ‘kill your darlings’, and ‘grow thicker skin’.  People spout these lines because they used to have impact.  It’s what a positive person will use to cheer someone up with the least amount of effort put into it.  There’s not even an explanation of what they mean and I’ve asked at times.  Mostly, I get a shrug with a few people telling me that I shouldn’t care about selling books and just enjoy writing.  That doesn’t usually help when I’m lamenting no sales and talking about how my dream of being a career author has been thoroughly shattered.  Spitting the phrase out is almost insulting at that point, which is what happens with those others too.

That kind of touches on why I don’t always like the phrase.  I grew up dreaming of being an author with people buying and mostly enjoying my book.  So, I clearly wasn’t going to write stuff that only I would like.  I know I had to enjoy my own stories to get the emotions and care right.  Yet, I’m not trying to entertain myself alone.  That’s what puzzles, anime, and staring at the ceiling are for.  Writing was fun with the added benefit of working towards a possible dream.  Now, I don’t really know what it is since it’s so hard to find the time and motivation.  The idea that I’m now only writing for myself is kind of painful when compared to how I dreamed even 6 years ago.

Guess I’m saying that I hope people are more careful when they tell a sad author to ‘write for themselves’.  Read the room a bit or explain the phrase.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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13 Responses to Always Write for Yourself

  1. L. Marie says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever told someone to write for himself/herself or kill his/her darlings, though I have heard these statements before. My assumption is that people will do what they really want to do in regard to writing without me having to say what should be done. I may have asked, “Why do you write?” because I’m fascinated with why people do it. But if an answer is given, I usually take it at face value rather than supplying an answer.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I believe the first draft is just for us … the writer. If we’re not having fun, what’s the point? I know I don’t make enough money from my sales or page reads to spend so much time on it otherwise. You do what works for you, Charles. The ‘hard work’ part is in the revision stages, lols. Hugs 🤗💕🙂

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  3. I don’t think there is any advice that will help when it is clear no one is reading an author’s work. To say write for yourself, under those circumstances, is like saying “play with yourself.”

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  4. I might ask you to think of a different question. If you stopped writing, how would you feel? People go through stages in our lives all the time. We have to give up favorite activities for many reasons.

    How would you feel? You might be relieved to let go of something that feels so hard. You might be crushed by the sense of having failed/wasted your time. People in your family who mocked your art might suddenly be nicer, or those who supported you might become critical that you “gave up.”

    For me, writing is part of my identity. Sales and recognition are great, but they aren’t the point. If I wasn’t writing, I would feel hollow. So, what would you feel like if you gave up your art?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d feel defeated. I’d feel that human society is a heartless shame because nobody should have to give up favorite activities for anything. If a stage of life forces the sacrifice of a beloved activity then it’s probably a stressful and painful stage. One that a healthy society and reality wouldn’t put a person through. If a person is suddenly nicer after I quit then they’re assholes. That’s not a true connection.

      Art is supposed to be shared. Artists are supposed to be heard. Society makes it okay for an artist to be crushed and kept in the shadows. Telling them to only write for themselves comes off as saying ‘nobody else will like what you do’. For anyone who wants recognition for their effort, the suggestion is a slap in the face. And most artists want some recognition, especially by strangers because friends and family have a bias. It’s that sense that somebody truly does like what we’re doing and the effort we put in isn’t wasted. It can feel that way when one is writing and nobody is caring. Plenty of authors have just given up because they couldn’t rationalize the time putting into the activity. After all, time is limited and not getting anything material out of an activity results in people saying it’s wasteful. That’s the judging and push to quit that comes from not getting any recognition. It’s also why modern society doesn’t real like artists.

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