Not all writers are people-pleasers. Yet we all have to do everything we can to satisfy our audiences (real or imagined) all the same.
Many writers, however, also live with the general desire to make everyone they interact with happy. It’s impossible, of course. We know this. That doesn’t stop the urgency. The never-ending quest for perfection. The irrational hope that everyone will always like everything we do.
You’ve likely heard before that trying to please everyone as a writer is a direct line to years of misery, disappointment, and — probably — failure.
All that’s 100% true, don’t get me wrong.
But has anyone ever actually told you how the HECK you’re supposed to keep writing when you know for a fact some people aren’t going to like it?
Hi. Hello. I have advice. It’s why you’re here, after all, isn’t it? Let’s get to it.
It’s probably no surprise to anyone reading this that I’m a people-pleaser to a borderline unhealthy degree.
The more time I spend writing and publishing, the less I care about who I bother with my words (of course not including anything offensive or anything like that because … why …?). I’m not here only to write stories that make people happy. I’m here to share narratives that inspire and comfort, sure, but also ones that provoke deep thought and challenge beliefs and crush stereotypes.
But I certainly haven’t always been as confident in my ability to publish words without worrying about who might hate them. I used to try to write to please. And it really limited my creativity and held me back. I wasted many years thinking I had to reach the widest range of an audience as possible.
I have to give credit to my years as a female Star Wars content creator for pulling me out of that mindset. You learn very quickly in fandom spaces that your work might be some of the best you’ve ever done — people will still find a way to criticize and insult you unnecessarily for it. You can’t just stop doing it because people attack you for it.
Well, for the record, you CAN … if you have to. If it’s the best thing for your mental health. But you should never feel forced to. People aren’t going to like some of the things you write. As long as it isn’t targeting or insulting anyone innocent, you’re fine.
My stories are dark and raw and don’t always have happy endings. I completely understand that some people read to escape from the tragedies in their own lives, and if that means you’ll never read my novels, I’m OK with that. I would rather a reader choose what they experience through a story based on what interests and encourages and inspires them, not because they recognize my name and want to support me.
There are plenty of ways to support a writer, and they don’t always involve reading or even purchasing a writer’s book(s). I don’t care if you don’t want to or can’t read what I write. I do care that you’re kind about it (knowing full well there are those who never will be).
BUT. Not actively trying to avoid trolls (who will appear no matter what) or prompt praise, how do you write and show off your work without being terrified that it’s going to turn some people off?
- Remember that your relationship with your readers is extremely valuable. But you have no control over the outcome of your readers’ relationship with your work. This goes for both positive and negative results. Focus on what you can control. Leave alone what you can’t.
- Only engage with hate if it’s going to be a constructive conversation. You can be present on social media professionally without having to interact with everyone who tries to interact with you. Yes, the above truth still applies, but you should never feel like you have to defend every criticism of your work or even yourself.
- Write what makes you happy and others will find happiness in it too. Just because some people dislike your work doesn’t mean it’s bad. If it’s bad, hopefully an editor or another authority figure involved with publishing your work will tell you that before you publish it. If you’re having a good time writing something, other people disliking it shouldn’t take your joy away.
- Remember why you write. It’s not to make everyone happy. It’s to share stories that have the potential to make some people happy. You are not a super-human with the ability to win everyone over with the power of your words. You’re just an ordinary human who can use words to do extraordinary things. It’s not a guaranteed effect. But it’s possible.
You are a writer because you like to write. Don’t waste your energy trying to write what everyone might like. You need that energy to tell the best stories possible. Save it for use where it counts.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.