People Don’t Always Read — or Write — to Escape

Not everyone picks up a book to forget what they’re going through.

There are people who say books, movies, and shows — and the people who create them — should focus purely on entertaining an audience and avoid commenting on current events, social issues, and the like.

There are also people — like me — who believe writing should seek to inform and educate just as much as, if not more than, it should entertain.

I’m all for being entertained, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve never personally been one to treat books or TV as an escape. I don’t judge those who do — sometimes you just have to get away from it all for a while. I’m just always looking for a deeper meaning, a moral, a takeaway.

I write this way, too. Sometimes I’m afraid I’m not being entertaining ENOUGH because I focus in on the lessons I’m trying to get across. But I try my best.

I think it’s extremely important to remember that it’s not just your job to make people smile or laugh or cry by telling a simple story. As a writer, you have a chance to take a stance, to say something important through a narrative. I don’t believe we should “back down” from these opportunities because there are people who want to escape when they pick up a book or turn on a show.

There are people out there who are looking for someone or something to relate to. For a story or essay or blog post to put into words what they can’t seem to be able to do.

Not everyone is looking for a way out, for a way to forget. Sometimes they WANT the drama, the deep stuff, the “real talk.” Not everyone will, and some people will criticize you for being “too political” or for hitting “too close to home.”

Those people aren’t the ones looking for the kind of stories you might be telling. And that’s OK. You can’t please everyone no matter how much you might be tempted to try.

Whether you write to escape or to tell stories relevant to the world around you — some much more so than others — you should trust your gut. If you have an idea for a story and you really want to dive into it, but something in the back of your mind says it’s “too real,” as yourself how much that really matters. Aren’t some of the best stories the ones who make us feel things — and isn’t it easiest to feel things when we can relate to the content on a personal level?

While it’s true that listening to your audience is important, you shouldn’t always tell stories based on everything they do or don’t want. Write the stories YOU want to tell the way YOU want to tell them. Especially if that’s going to mean the difference between an unfinished work-in-progress and a query-ready novel, for example.

If there’s something you need to say, say it. And if there’s an audience who will benefit from it, you’ll find them. Or they’ll find you. Either way, everyone wins. You told the story you wanted or needed to tell, and, if you’re lucky, someone else got something out of it, too.

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.

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8 thoughts on “People Don’t Always Read — or Write — to Escape

  1. Sometimes its just nice to write with no real purpose. Yes, you can use the piece later if you want to but just getting those words out of your head and onto paper is something worth doing. x

  2. It’s so important to write the kinds of stories that matter to you as a reader! There’s no one-size-fits-all writing advice, and I agree, it’s annoying when people act like the only purpose of books is escapism.

  3. Some of my poetry brings up social issues or something from current events. This fall, I wrote about the November elections (with a bit of sarcasm thrown in) as well immigrants (with a nod to the current mess in the United States). It takes more time to write about these type of topics, but it can be fulfilling to me, the writer.

    1. I think it’s amazing that you’re able to take such heavy topics and make beautiful/sarcastic things from them. This is always something I’ve appreciated about writing. If something’s on your mind, as a writer, you have that outlet right there in front of you to put those thoughts in a constructive way.

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