Writing for yourself First

I was reading on a forum today where an author asked how he could get the joy of writing back. He was worn out and bored with everything he started. The thought of writing another word was akin to pulling his own teeth with a pair of pliers.

As I read through the comments it became very clear to me, despite all the great suggestions given on how to help him, that his true problem wasn’t writer’s block or burn out. It was gearing his writing toward what he thought readers wanted from him. It was suppressing his own creative voice in an attempt to give his audience what they wanted. And it was boring him to death.

You see, he loved his daily writing pages. He enjoyed warm up stage before the critic’s voice came in to kill the fun. He still daydreamed new pitfalls for his characters.

It made me start to wonder, how many writers start with the joy of writing only to lost the passion? How many authors gear their writing toward what they think readers want? How many writers are writing books they hate or would never read themselves because it sells well? How many of you are doing this right now?

Stop it. Stop it right now.

The best part of writing is writing what you enjoy for the fun of it. It’s what makes work a little less work-y. It’s what makes the right readers love your books. Passion in your writing voice will carry the book far longer than formulaic writing.

60 Comments

  1. I started self-releasing my material because I wanted to showcase my photography with the publications. I am always looking to publish other self-published writers in my projects.

    1. Sounds like you found your passion and you enjoy what you do. 😀

      1. I had a hard time finding a market for my style of horror so I created an imprint and started publishing other self-published writers.

        1. It’s one of the best ways to start self-publishing. 😀

          1. I have a storefront if you want to check out some of my own books they are published with Lulu.com. I started out as a self-published author on booksurge but I joined lulu.com because I wasn’t happy with the layout that booksurge did with the first collection.

  2. myieshaspeight says:

    I appreciate this post. I think as a writer you sometimes lose sight of what brought you to writing and end up focusing more on what sales or will be most profitable. I have to constantly remind myself to write what I love and write for myself and if people happen to like it that’s a plus. I never want writing to turn into a chore or something I have to do.By writing for myself, I never lose sight of my reason for writing and it stays fun for me.

    1. And it will remain fun as long as you focus on your goals for writing. When one focuses more on the sells, ranking, and if a book is or isn’t making a profit, they lose sight of what made it fun. Plus there is all the stress involved when sales and rank/numbers drop. Then the panic begins and the focus moves online to promote more. When more often then not, the next book will serve the purpose better.

  3. I went through this during my years in traditional publishing. There were projects I really wanted to do, but my agent and publisher rejected them because they “weren’t glamorous.” They wanted glitz and glamour, which is an alien culture to me, while I wanted to write adventures. I didn’t get my passion back until I started self-publishing.

    1. That was the biggest problem about traditional publishing for me: writing to spec and what they think will sale. Writing is not an exact science and shouldn’t be placed in a formula plot or theme. Writers are storytellers first and we want to tell the story in our hearts. We might even want to share them with the world. But being told that we have to add “glitz and glamor” or “more conflict between characters rather than outside conflict” or “sex by certain scenes” to a story that doesn’t call for it makes it so the story doesn’t unfold correctly. Yeah, some writers can manage it, but how much of what makes them a great storyteller is suppressed in the process.

  4. What a timely post! I was having a discussion about this with three other authors over the past two weeks where we all agreed that there has to come a time when we have to choose if we’ll write what we believe will sell or what we love most.

    I’m beginning to wonder if this is a normal situation every author must confront at the mid-point of their career. At first, it’s fun because we haven’t had the feedback yet. We haven’t had the reviews and emails. So we’re able to hear our voice clearly. Then the outside world comes in and we’re aware people are reading our work and we can actually make money (if we write for a certain audience in a certain way). We start competing with other authors (without even trying). We start believing we’re a failure if we don’t hit the bestsellers’ lists or make X amount of money. I like what Zoe Winters said a while back. She said to keep your eyes on your own paper. I think once we do that, we can push past the outside voices telling us what we should do or want to do.

    It’s taken me a long time to come to the point where I can consciously force out what other people are telling me what I should do or what I should “want” to do. The best thing I ever did was to take several “vacations” during the year where I’ll do minimal online stuff and just get back to writing for the pleasure of writing. And of course, I have finally learned to tell people no, which was the hardest thing to do. It’s not easy telling a reader that you have no interest in writing a book they would love to read. And I was finally able to put in a scene I really wanted into an upcoming book even though I knew it would earn some criticism. But hey, it’s my book and I really wanted that scene in so I left it. Now that’s joy. 😀

    Thanks for the inspiring post!

    1. You’re welcome. 😀

      It sounds like a normal situation. I find that it is the professional writers who either work through it or comply to demands, though usually of their editors and not readers. As for placing a scene in the book that you think will be criticized, you might be surprised. I didn’t think my last book would do good and yet it’s selling better than my five previous books. I believe it has more to do with finding readers who like some aspect of your work they can’t find elsewhere. They’ll buy the book and even if they don’t like something, they’ll shrug it away and buy the next one because you have something they want out of a story.

  5. sknicholls says:

    Reblogged this on mybrandofgenius and commented:
    I couldn’t agree more with the last sentence of this post. I want to share it with anyone who is “struggling” to write a piece.

    1. Thank you for sharing this with others. 🙂

  6. To some extent, every writer gears their work towards their reader. But like you said, it’s writing what you enjoy that makes it fun. And heck, if I didn’t write what I enjoyed, I wouldn’t write at all.

    1. I’ve already written the next post about my thoughts on targeting writing for readers, but I also think there is a difference in how a writer goes about it. Either they gear it toward the readers and write to their demands, losing some of the joy of writing because they’re own style is suppressed in the hopes of selling more books. Or they focus on their perfect reader, even if that reader is imagined, and gear their writing toward them and hope there is more then one out there. 😀

      1. I prefer the latter approach, personally. Less frustrating and a lot more fun.

  7. RavenWest says:

    I managed to toss down 50,000 words for the Novel in a Month and both works are still sitting on my hard drive 2 years later. So very bogged down by the effort to market and sell what I’ve already written and hitting a mountain of bricks, so my inner voice (DAMN YOU!) says “why bother? No one is going to read this, let alone spend any money on it, so what is the point?”

    Then I have to remind myself that my 40 or so personal diaries I have in a hidden box somewhere were never meant to be read by anyone (Thank GOD!), but I found that writing just FELT great without any end game in mind. Maybe we just get too bogged down with reality and forget about the FANTASY of the writing experience!

    Thanks for a terrific post!!

    1. The 20 or so started and never finished novels in my filing cabinet are a testament to some books are better left hidden and possibly burned to ashes. 😀

      Creatives don’t always make the best entrepreneurs. It’s the whole right-brained/left-brained thing. The trick is to get your creative brain involved with selling process in a way that makes it fun for you and your readers.

  8. 1writeplace says:

    Great article, thanks for telling me about it, sknicholls. I feel that, just like everything else in the writer’s world, our “job” descriptions are changing. I’m having fun and enjoying the community that is being built at my blog site. I don’t (haven’t yet) have issues with boredom myself. However, it makes sense. It used to be that only newspaper journalists had to come up with new material every day, or at least several times a week. Now every writer who wants to traditional or indie publish has to have a platform, which is built around a blog site. New material constantly. We just aren’t used to the grind. Some will make it, but I understand why many will not.
    Thanks for a thought-invoking post,
    Patti

    1. You’re welcome, and thank you for the idea for another post. LOL Platforms were one of the hardest things for me to understand and I’m still workng on.

  9. Katie Cross says:

    Excellent piece. I definitely agree. I clam up if I’m not writing something that’s interesting to me.

    1. That’s usually the moment I realize that I’m taking the book in a direction it doesn’t want to go. It’s time to backpedal and redo rather then force my way through and have to rewrite later.

      1. rosedandrea says:

        I am now realizing this with a couple of my half written novels. The muse left and refused to help. After doing a little reading into writing for the fun of it, I’ve realize I was over thinking things. Trying to follow too many other people’s ideas of how one is supposed to write. Took the fun, and creativity, right out of it.
        Looking forward to this wrist healing up so I can hit the keyboard at full throttle again. (After throwing a lot of ‘learned people’s opinions’ out the mental window.) 🙂
        Can’t Wait!

        1. It is often the case of too many writer myths vying for space and working to get rid of the ones that aren’t helpful to you. Hope the wrist heals and you can get back to the joy of writing again. 🙂

  10. M T McGuire says:

    Great post, bang on the money. I think maybe I’m just weird but I can’t write any other way. Perhaps it’s the result of a long career in branding – I’ve already written what other people want, the way they want it said. Some of it has even gone out on TV.

    So this… this is for me. I write the books I want to read. If other people like them that’s great but I’m the reader. It might explain why my books are so weird. If this means I’m ‘unprofessional’ so be it.

    Cheers

    MTM

    1. Really and truly I think the writer is their best reader. It is like minds that will understand and like the book.

  11. Gwen says:

    This is wonderful! It’s a great reminder for us all. Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome. 😀

  12. I was told my latest manuscript was not following the “romantic formula” and would never sell to the romantic publishers. I was told by this authority, that I have to write for the readers or I’ll never see a book. I became very discouraged and shelved my project. I haven’t been able to really get back that same passion with which I wrote that manuscript. I wrote that on in a month last NaNoWriMo. It just flowed. My passion was at it’s peak. Does it need help? Perhaps. But I was told to put it in a box under the bed and forget about it because it wouldn’t pass muster with the romance crowd. It wasn’t formulaic enough. The comments took away my delight in writing because now I have to stick to the formula if I want to see something published. When I wrote a story about boxing in Los Angeles during the 50’s with no formula and not for the readers, the magic happened. It will be ePub’d in August.

    What you said about grabbing your passion with two fists is spot-on. Thanks you.

    1. You’re welcome. It’s easy to be discouraged by those who criticize your work because it doesn’t met their criteria. But you have to remember that Publishers aren’t about the book or good storytelling as much as business. They are going for the trends and possible trends, books they think will sell. My first romance wouldn’t have sold to romance publishers because it wasn’t a vampire or shape-shifter theme, which was highly popular at the time. But it passes muster with the romance crowd looking for that type of book. Self-publishing it was the best thing I ever did. Maybe you need to pull the story out from under the bed and get a second opinion that isn’t a publishers or editors. You might be surprised by the feedback that you get from a reader.

    2. OMG, Carol Anne, you get that manuscript out from under your bed, dust it off and self pub it!!!!

    3. rosedandrea says:

      Carol, I agree with Stephanie’s comment.
      Just because one person had a stinky opinion of something you poured your heart into doesn’t mean it has major problems. It just wasn’t what that person was looking for. (Dozens of people turned down J. K. Rowling. Betcha they feel like real idiots right now. 😀 )
      Pull it out, dust it off. Sure, give it another editing to double check for problems if you want, but don’t give up on something that makes you happy. 🙂
      Good luck with your boxing story. I hope it takes off for you.

  13. Cate Russell-Cole says:

    Reblogged this on "CommuniCATE" Resources for Writers and commented:
    I cringe when I read posts about writing for an audience. You do that with marketing, writing should be for YOU. Thanks for this post Stephannie.

    1. Me too. I don’t know how may articles I’ve read over the years about targeting audiences while you write that have all this preparation time, like creating a character profile of your perfect reader, studying the markets for books that sell so you can write something similar, and the list goes on. I wouldn’t be able to write what is popular in my main genre if that was the case. Besides that I image a bunch of authors dressed in camouflage sneaking around the Internet looking for readers to target then seeking back home to write the novel they think the readers will want. Writing like that would take all the fun out of it.

      1. Cate Russell-Cole says:

        It seems to come down to are you writing for money, or the love of writing? Another red flag for me is when genres suddenly boom: YA Harry Potter style, zombies etc. “It sells for the big names, so let me try it.” I am concerned about creative authenticity and a lack of that, definitely leads to burn out. Great post. Thank YOU. It’s getting a lot of shares.

  14. Carrie says:

    Yes! Thankyou to Cate for reblogging! I think in a world where everyone is trying to push their product into your hands that we often forget the magic in telling stories. 🙂

  15. Passion is definitely the secret to successful writing, as is personal interest in the subject matter- readers pick up on it. The hardest part is discovering that passion and interest in the material that publishers consider makes an author saleable these days – something as true of non-fiction (which I mostly publish) as it is of fiction.

    1. The best thing about writing and publishing your own books is that you when you find something that interests you, you can write it with the passion you have for the story or subject matter, and then publish it without having to worry about what a publisher who is looking at trends and sales thinks about your book.

  16. Thanks for this post. It came to me right in time. I have been wanting to write my book for six years, and I just keep putting it aside. Come to think of it, fear has kept me from letting go and writing my story. Fear of what others will think of my life. What am I worried about? I am mostly writing this book for my son as a legacy. So now I can start writing. Thanks for the push! ♥

    1. You’re welcome. 🙂

  17. Excellent post – in this age of the Internet and trying to tailor our writing to what internet users are searching for and what people are buying, I think we’ve gotten too wrapped up in writing what other people want and not what’s really in our hearts.

    1. If you write for yourself first, then you can market to others of a like mind as yourself. There are readers of every kind out there.

  18. Kingfisher says:

    I’ve been writing since I was about six, and as a kid and even as an early teenager I adored it and it came so naturally to me, because I didn’t even realise it could be a career or something I could pursue in later life. My ambitions were all the usual stuff- be a nurse, be a vet etc. But for the past few years I’ve realised it’s what I want to do with my life more than anything else, yet it seems to be the only thing I can’t attain, because I’m not struggling to write. Not because of writer’s block, but because I’m trying to write for other people, like you said. I mean, I adore everything I write, but I also hate it because it’s not me. Even if I do write something for me, that pressure is still there, because I post my fiction online (not here) and people expect me to update and post things regularly or post a certain type of writing with certain things in it, and that’s hard. It’s also the pressure to be individual. Say I wanted to write a vampire novel, unless it was unique, I couldn’t sell it because it’s been done before. But if I come up with a completely unique idea, I can’t sell it because it’s too new or weird or not what the masses want. So where do you draw the line?

    1. Is there a line to draw? Did you know that many readers have started to read Indie writers work because it’s something new and original? Many of them are tired of the same old stuff that Publishers put out year after year. How do you know if your book ideas are too new and weird for others if you don’t write them? Or that others won’t read them?

      The stories of Stephen King and Anne Rice were both considered too new and too weird, and yet they found dedicated fan bases. There are writers in every genre that pull away from what the “masses want” to write a story they want to tell and succeed. I find that there are readers for just about everything, you just have to find them. 😀

      1. Kingfisher says:

        Thank you, but it is hard to find time to write. I’m still in school- well sixth form, so I’m constantly busy with work for that, even in the holidays, so finding time to write is hard, but I suppose that I’ll have to make time if I want it so much.

        1. Finding and making time to write is hard to do and I would never suggest adding more stress to school to do it. I would suggest doing it when you have a free moment. There will come the time that you might be able to devote more time to it. 🙂

    2. Two years ago, I went through the same kind of pressure you’re talking about. It was paralyzing and I ended up shutting completely down. I don’t know what the answer is for you, but I had to completely remove myself from all influences by taking myself offline for a couple months. I shut down my first draft blog so no one could participate in my first drafts anymore (thereby removing the “when is the next post going to be up?” questions). It helped me to get back to knowing what I wanted to write instead of writing for other people.

      It was a process. I didn’t get back to the complete joy of writing for another year and a half because I’d go in cycles where I started to let others’ opinions affect me so I’d take a break from online activities again for a couple of weeks or until I felt like the joy had been restored. The cycle does end and you can get to the point where you know what others want but are able to still write for yourself first. It’s a hard and long process to get there, though.

      Good luck. I know how awful it is to go through that pressure.

      1. Kingfisher says:

        I guess I’ll just have to try. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me, I really appreciate it.

  19. When you first start to write, and if people buy, they tend to be attracted to a ‘new’ voice, a ‘new’ style. Sometimes when you start writing (following a success, however large or mild), I feel that you can sometimes lose your passion in trying to keep the pace and end up ‘strangling’ your ‘voice’. Does that even make sense? LOL I guess what I’m trying to say is that success can sometimes bring a downfall as a writer drops into the pit of money-making first.
    Okay, that’s as clear as mud. Serves me right for trying to write this at 11:27pm Down Under!

    1. LOL I think I understand. Yes, success can be crippling to a writer’s voice. The pressure to not disappoint or to make more money or sell more books to stay high in the ranks is stressful. It’s one of the reasons I find being online so hard. There’s always the temptation to check how your book is doing. The same can be said for obscurity if the goal is to make money. Not making enough can be affect your passion. However, if you are writing for you first, because you have a story inside you that wants out and everything else isn’t as important as that, then your style and passion doesn’t suffer quite as bad. Sometimes that means not checking stats or reviews. Brushing bad reviews aside as opinions of a reader that isn’t your ideal reader. etc.

  20. Jae says:

    Great words of advice. Your number one audience should be you. Granted, you want to edit to include the rest of the world, but the passion comes from writing for yourself. Thanks for a great reminder!

    1. You’re welcome. 😀

  21. Thank you for this post. This is something that I tend to forget too often and get wrapped up in writing what I think others want. But when I write for my enjoyment first, I find the story more interesting and my characters develop better.

    1. Readers will find the same thing about your story. A writer’s style and passion shines through.

  22. tjtherien says:

    I always try to write for myself… I gave up dreams of publishing long ago because I decided it was better to satisfy my own desires than those of a publisher. Recently I did struggle when some people put doubts in my head about my writing process saying I would never produce a final draft with out editing more than typos and spelling mistakes…I never change the way I’ve expressed something as I write it is how it will stand. I realized two things, one is if I never revealed my process as stream of consciousness and I don’t touch original text most people wouldn’t even realize it. In fact I don’t think anyone would have realized it judging by the comments I do get on the results of the process.. Secondly I learned that what does it matter what they think of my process, its how I chose to write, I write for me first and foremost. I like to challenge myself and the process I’ve chosen for both prose and poetry does just that. While not all I write is quality I pride myself in maintaining a certain standard. I have a primary blog and a secondary blog. The secondary blog I set up to tackle a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time but could not find the format. I think blogging will give me that format and allow me to write my ever-evolving story I post it as I write it and I believe it defies genre, but if it were to be so labeled I guess it would be a romance… I really enjoyed this post…and will be following as I poked around here and there’s some really useful stuff even if my desire is not to publish in the conventional sense of the word.

    1. Every writer is different and no one should be compared to another. The people who put doubts into your head about your writing process were wrong and I’m glad you moved through it.

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