Who do you write for?
A common answer to this question, especially among newer aspiring writers is: “Myself.” And this isn’t necessarily a bad answer. We all, at the end of the day, are presumably writing because it brings us joy or otherwise fills us with some sense of purpose where we might not otherwise have one.
But you are not just telling your story for you.
It is possible that your story could reach hundreds, thousands, even millions and beyond. And they all require something very specific when they come across your work.
People want to see themselves in your stories. We are, by nature, a self-preoccupied species. We think a lot about ourselves and about how the world affects us. This is why we so often write about things we know from personal experience. We understand how different things have impacted us, so we write from our own perspectives about things we understand through that lens.
But there is another side to this — an important one, since you can’t write without your potential audience in mind. Readers are also looking for stories that speak to how they feel and what they have been through. In fact, some days they are desperate to find characters they can relate to, who seem to “understand” them even though they often aren’t technically real.
So write about the things people go through. The universal truths we all understand. Allow people to be seen, to see themselves and their experiences reflected in the stories they read. Be responsible for giving someone hope, for helping them along their journey to accepting a previously denied truth. Be real. Showcase what it is like to be human. That is what people want. It is also what they desperately need.
Your stories should reflect who you are and what you have felt … and seen. I have said it many times, and I will say it many times more: The best stories that exist in the world are the ones that come straight from your heart, and often, this requires a multitude of self-reflection.
Your stories are a mirror not just in the sense that others should see themselves in your work, but that you, too, should see yourself in what you write. Inserting yourself into your stories at some point becomes inevitable. The truths you hold, the secrets you have told, the mistakes you have made — they are all going to end up in a book at some point, ideally. Not because you need to tell the world all about yourself, but because it turns out you are not the only one who has experienced some of the things you have experienced.
You can’t shy away from this. And that sometimes means you have to make a conscious choice between how deep you want to go when telling a particular story to a bunch of strangers you will likely never meet.
Vulnerability is inevitable — on both sides of the equation. To be clear, everyone reads and consumes stories for different reasons. Many read as a way to escape the real world — and if that’s you, know that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with this. A story is yours to do with what you please. You do you, no questions asked.
But there are plenty of people who approach stories open and willing to experience them on a deep emotional level. This is what some stories do. They meet you where you are and they take you to places you once thought you were not prepared to go. But once you’re there, in many ways, there is no turning back.
Sometimes, if a story is meant to make you feel, and you are willing to feel what you are meant to feel, it very well could change you for the better. And this stands whether you are simply an audience member reading it or the creator writing it down.
As a writer, sometimes you have to let yourself be vulnerable enough to write what hurts, what scares you, and what leaves you uncertain. Why? Because this is what opens the door for other people to feel the same things you are feeling.
Vulnerability is where truth comes out. And maybe that’s not your primary purpose for writing a story. But even when you don’t intend to, sometimes a good story is good because it says what not enough people are saying, or frames things in a way that makes a fact much more understandable and relatable to the masses.
Do not be afraid of this. Do not fear the art of expression, or the consequence of making people see themselves for who they really are. You have this power you didn’t even know the universe might allow you to have. So use it wisely. Use it to do some good in this world.
Use it to be better. To make the world better. If you can. If you dare.
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.