When asked why they write, many writers’ answers will include the idea of sharing their stories.
This is kind of strange, if you think about it. You come up with an idea that is all your own and you sit down and write a story all by yourself and instead of keeping it contained in your own private world you at some point decide, “I want other people to have this thing that I made.”
Writing, at least I believe, starts with the self. You’re interested in something, you have a personal story to tell, you you you you you. At some point you either decide to expose your own vulnerabilities to the world and say, “Okay, here’s something from my brain that I’m letting you look at, do with it what you will.”
On a deeper level, you are always the driving force behind everything you create. You have to be. But most writers eventually have to add another layer to the complex thing that is Writing For a Living: other people.
We all delight in the fact that we get to wake up every morning and write stories that make us feel alive, because we know somehow it’s what we’re meant to do.
But there’s one problem with the idea that writing for “you” will get you far enough to be considered successful: It’s not actually all about you.
Yes, first and foremost, you have to write stories that matter to you and that you can connect with deeply enough to commit to. If you aren’t invested, your readers won’t be either.
However, in the end, you’re not just “selling” stories that are for you. You’re catering to an audience, and that audience has expectations. Needs. Desires. It’s not that you have to give them everything they want. You just have to give them things that will keep them coming back for more.
This is stressful. It can make a lot of us feel claustrophobic as if our creativity is being squeezed into a shape it’s never been asked to be in and fit into a space it never considered trying to fit into.
You’re allowed to tell any story you want. But the general hope is that you won’t be the only one exposed to it, and in telling a story you’re creating expectations you may or may not be able to fulfill successfully.
Maybe you don’t care about making money or building an audience — you just want to write for yourself because it’s what fulfills you and that’s good enough. Nothing wrong with that. You’re allowed to focus only on what’s important or interesting to you and you’re welcome to keep it to yourself. Many writers do.
But if you do have aspirations to work professionally as a writer in any capacity, you have to always keep that audience in mind. Whoever they are, whatever they like and don’t like, what they’re most inclined to read and what they’re least likely to touch. You still matter. But at many points, it can seem — and feel — like you matter less than Them.
The truth? Writing is complicated. BEING a writer is complicated. As much as you may want to burrow deep into your own isolated cave and write to yourself, that’s not always an option. It can be, for some people. You just have to figure out what you really want out of a life as a writer and whether or not you’re willing to find that delicate balance between writing about things that matter to you and writing things that will speak to the masses.
My advice? Write the things that come to you and share them bravely. The more you put your work out there, the more you begin to understand how your words can be relatable to others without seeming “forced.” I, for example, write blog posts that a lot of people seem to understand on a deeply personal level. I don’t do that on purpose. I just managed to find an audience of writers who go through the same things I do. We’re all literally on the same page.
What do YOU want? What do the PEOPLE want? It’s not always the same. But I think the more you open yourself up to the world, the more people who can get behind your stories and their messages will find you. You have to make a commitment to them. But you also have to stay true to yourself.
Sometimes, there will be things you’re interested in that others aren’t. That’s OK. You’re also allowed to keep some of your writing to yourself and share the rest. It’s not an all-or-nothing life. You have the power to choose. Don’t you?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.