Monday, March 28, 2011

Write for Yourself First . . . or the Reader?

"They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel." -- Carl. W. Buechner

This concept is the core basis of why you should be writing. Impression. Impact. A memorable experience. Whether discussing nonfiction, fiction, poetry or scripts, the end result of a piece should be weighed by its take-away value.

We write to entertain, to educate, and as selfish as it sounds, to be remembered. I once participated in a blog discussion contained in the comments following the post. It turned almost into a chat session, all about how and why a writer writes. The blog owner professed that the writer needs to satisfy himself first and foremost, because he cannot be all things to all people. He had about thirty thousand blog readers, so the list extended to a couple hundred comments, especially once it became a debated topic.

After reading several dozen "I agree" echoes to the author, I took a stand otherwise. If an author doesn't write for an audience, he writes for himself alone. Sure, he has to critique and accept his own work as credible, valueable and polished, but if he doesn't envision a readership as he composes, he runs the risk of missing the mark. The piece becomes a soliloquy . . . to an audience of one.

The blogger ardently disagreed with me. The conversation turned into a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma. I quit arguing first, saddened at his followers believing that self-satisfaction was sufficient for good writing. Readers could enjoy or move on to someone else, in their collected opinion.

Personally I believe many memoirs fall on their faces due to this misunderstanding. Even though the story is personal, it has to be conveyed to a sea of many, and therefore, written for the masses - incorporating them in the message, even if the message is founded in the author's life.

Understand and thrill the readers you've defined as your niche crowd. I'm not declaring you sell your soul and pimp your work. Just create stories like the artist you are - for the enjoyment of the public.

13 comments:

BECKY said...

I'll keep this short and sweet...I agree with you, Hope!

Linda O'Connell said...

Absolutley agree. The first rule of writing that I learned was write for your reader. I do my best to make that connection.

Stella said...

I believe you have to be pleased with the finished product, but in that pleasure is the knowledge that someone is going to enjoy it more than you.

Laura M. Campbell said...

I've seen this topic discussed on many blogs recently, especially with the change in publishing. Writing, if you plan to make a career out of it, depends heavily on your audience. Writers groups, critiques groups, beta readers, agents, editors are all there to make your writing clearer, stronger and readable. You should approach a short story, novel, poem, etc., with what you would want to read in mind, but in the end you are polishing it so others can read it. A writer needs to ask themselves the question: am I an artist or is writing a hobby?

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Good post. I agree that we should be writing with an eye to impacting a reader. If you don't want to connect with a reader, why write books? You can keep a journal for self-expression.

Lisa McKay said...

Hi Hope, I've been enjoying getting your weekly newsletter over here in Laos. Also enjoyed reading this (followed a link from twitter) as I'm currently revising a draft of my memoir. Thanks.

Julie Nilson said...

Ooo, I like that line, Stella!

I agree with you, Hope. A writer does need to stay true to him/herself, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't consider the audience.

widdershins said...

If we don't write with our readers in mind (note that I didn't say FOR our readers) then we best not contemplate giving up our day jobs.

Susan Toy said...

If you want to be published, and since you should always have a clear idea of who your readers will be when your work is published, it makes sense to write for those readers.

Julie Hedlund said...

I AGREE WITH YOU! But I also think it's impossible to write something that will have meaning for the masses if it doesn't also have meaning for the writer. So it's a win-win really.

Krissy Brady, Writer said...

I completely agree with you Hope! We write because we're passionate about it, and our self-satisfaction should come from the fact that we impact our readers. Otherwise, what's the point to any of it?

M. Dunham said...

If we wanted to write for ourselves only, then those things would never be published. Compromise is key for any project, no matter how near and dear to our hearts it may be.

Write for yourself, but edit for your future fans and publication.

Stephanie Allen Crist said...

Both points have value, and both points can be combined: Start with a story that you're passionate about (the writer part of the equation) and then write that story for a selected audience (the readers part of the equation). It doesn't have to be an either/or deal.