"Write For Yourself" Is a Lie

What? you say.
How dare you say something like that about one of the long-standing pillars of writing!? you mean.

I said it is a lie! Well, perhaps it is more misnomer than outright lie, but an untruth nonetheless. If you, as you will be playing the role of “writer” in this production of a blog post, write for yourself, then how would I, as I will be playing the role of “reader”, even know that you are a writer?

You may write a diary or personal journal for yourself, but if you go to the significant trouble of concocting and writing out an entire story, then it is a good bet that you did so with the intention of someone else reading it. That intention may manifest as a fantasy in which your story is, by a series of unlikely but believable events, read by [fill in favorite author’s name] and [fifan] invites you to come with him/her on some crazy rock-n-roll book tour that [fifan] is currently on. In this fantasy you become wildly famous and rich and all the critics love you. Or, your intention might be to share your story with your Mom or best friend or to post it online or to send it to every lit mag listed on Duotrope. And those choices are all equally noble and can be equally frightening.

Let’s pause here for a moment and talk about something else.

I bought a new car recently. Not a new to me car, a brand new car. And I noticed a strange thing immediately upon driving the car off the lot: I wanted to show off my new car! I wanted everyone I knew to see it. I wanted them to know every little detail about the car and the process of buying it. I even posted pictures of it on Facebook.

I did the same thing when my wife and I bought our house. We invited all our friends over for a house warming party. More accurately: a-look-at-how-cool-this place-is-and-if-something-is-not-cool-we have-a-plan-to-renovate-that-thing-so-that-it-is-cool-and-we-will-have-you-back-over-after-that-renovation-so-you-can-see-how-cool-it-is party. It was the first time I’ve ever said: “Have you seen the dining room yet? You have got to check out the light fixture in there!”

Sorry, back to that lie that you’ve been told. Heck, you’ve probably told it; not even realizing the untruth of it. But it’s a bit of a comfort right? A warm safe blanket against the cold dark unknown of your bedroom with the lights off. Perhaps you give credence to the lie because it saves you from having to give credence to the criticism? Perhaps because it is preferable to having to admit that you want attention for the story that you’ve written? Perhaps you think that wanting recognition goes against some unspoken writers’ code? Perhaps, when you say “I write for myself,”  you think that you are saying “I decide what story I’m going to tell,” but you’re not saying that at all.

Musical interlude:

Here’s a little test,  if you will:

Scene one:
I say: “I loved your story! The style is fantastic and the subject spoke to me personally.”
Do you reply: “I don’t care what you think. I write for myself.”

Scene two:
I say: “I thought your story was okay, but there were several confusing moments and a few grammar issues.”
You reply: “I don’t care what you think. I write for myself.”

If you honestly fit in scene one, then you might actually write for yourself. It’s that or you don’t know how to take a compliment. If you fit in scene two, then you are using the lie as an excuse to not put the effort into improving…or as a shield against the criticism…or as a crutch…

So take down your motivational picture.

and this one, too…

And instead, write a note to yourself that says: “This is the last thing that I’m writing for myself. From now on, I will tell my stories to the world. Write to be read!” Because really, you are never going to be on a crazy rock-n-roll book tour with [fifan] if your stories are hidden away behind the lie of I write for myself.

I understand that the majority of writers who say that they write for themselves, really mean that they tell the stories that they want to tell. I know they are not lying to you, intentionally. But there it is, nonetheless.

Join me next blog when I confront the myth of “Writer as conduit.”


2 thoughts on “"Write For Yourself" Is a Lie”

  1. I agree, but I have always taken “write for yourself” as write what you want to write, not so much that you don’t want others to read it. I agree, all writers want to be read. But just as you bought the car you wanted to buy, then wanted to show it off; writers should write what they want to write, and also want to show it off.

    Well, damn. I guess I should read all the way to the last sentence: you said what I said. “I understand that the majority of writers who say that they write for themselves, really mean that they tell the stories that they want to tell. ”
    So much for my engagement with the text.

    1. Unfortunately, write for yourself has become an excuse instead of an inspiration. I know because I’ve used it. It has taken me far too long to realize that writing to be read is the way to go. I write what I want, but I do not write it for myself. And, I believe, if a writer is being completely honest, they do the same thing. Thanks for the comment.

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