Dear John: Stories Aren’t Just for Readers


Storytelling is as complicated as it is simple. It’s very difficult, as a writer, to describe the writing process to someone who hasn’t experienced it themselves. Why? Because just as often as you have to think about your purpose for sitting down and writing a story, you must consider who you are sitting down and writing a story for – someone that is not you.

Complicating the matter even further is knowing that every story you write will mean something different to every person who reads it, no matter your intention for writing it in the first place.

We all write for different reasons, but something all writers have in common is the fact that writing stories is a powerful tool, and that is why we work so hard to refine our craft and learn how to tell the best stories we can, and how to tell them well.

Every story sends a message. Not just to the person reading it, but to the person writing it.

At NerdCon: Stories 2015, John Green spoke about stories and why they matter. Speaking from the viewpoint of a writer, he explained why he tells stories, and how they can be used to, in a sense, mentally, temporarily teleport from the real world to a world we create for ourselves. Stories are a way to escape our bodies and our minds and find comfort, at least for a little while, in the fiction we are attempting to bring to life through our love-hate relationship with words.

As often as we try to focus on who we are writing for – because, in the end, our readers are in a sense our customers, and their emotions and opinions do matter – John reminds us here that writing a story doesn’t start out that way. It all starts with us, and why we are writing the story we are writing. How that story resonates with other people comes later. Sometimes much, much later in the process.

Some of us start writing stories loosely based on things that have happened to us. Maybe we went through something when we were younger, or maybe it was recently, and we don’t know how else to come to terms with it and move on from it. It’s the same idea if you see someone else going through something and need to come to a better understanding of it yourself.

Maybe someone has seriously wronged you, and you want to use a story to try and see things from their point of view, in an attempt to understand why you have been targeted and hurt.

Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you feel you have a lot of important things to say, but nobody is listening, and a story is the only way you can seem to get your ideas out on paper.

Before the reader comes the writer, and when a story is born, the writer’s relationship with that story is the only relationship that matters. You have to use stories for your own benefit before they can be of any use to anyone else.

It’s okay to worry about what your readers might think. After you’re able to process what you needed to process while constructing your thoughts.

Here is John’s short monologue from NerdCon: Stories a few weeks ago.

Let’s take a step away from the reader today, and focus on us – the writers. Not everyone will love your story. That’s not what matters. What matters is that you’re writing something that is meaningful to you, and that is the only way for anyone else to gather meaning from it for themselves.

Image courtesy of