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August 25, 2011

Do You Write for Yourself or Your Readers?

Empty seats in a stadium

Many writers, especially new ones, talk about how they write for themselves.  When we first start out, we might not know if we’ll even be able to finish the project, so it makes sense that we’re writing for ourselves.

We want to get this story out of our head.  We want to see if we can write a whole novel.  We want to prove to others that we can do it.

I started my first book for myself, primarily because I had this story inside my head that wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down.  When I begin a project, I’m still that way.

Even the most experienced authors under contract probably still feel a sense of writing for themselves during the drafting phase.  If they’re anything like me, they’re just as eager to see how the story turns out as a reader.

But at some point during the writing process, the focus changes to our audience, our potential readers.  And I’m not talking about as we get more experienced (or jaded).  I mean as the project moves from drafting to editing.

We can still edit for ourselves.  Heck, I’m a perfectionist, so I edit things past the point of where most people would notice.  But on some level, editing has to be for the reader.

This is why we use beta readers.  Our critique partners can help us with the craft, but our beta readers are…well, readers.  We need their input to see if readers will interpret our words the way we want them to.  We discover that our favorite sections need to be cut because they drag down the pacing too much.  We make decisions during the editing phase that cater to our reader.

All our nitpicky choices during editing (“Should I use this word or that word?”) are really about trying to figure out how readers will interpret one option over the other.  And then we decide which interpretation most closely matches our intention.

I wonder if this difference is what makes some writers hate editing.  Maybe they prefer writing for themselves.  Maybe editing to make the words mean what they think it should mean causes them to feel impatient.  (I’ve been through the endless revision cycles, so I can understand that impatience.)

But if we want to be successful published authors, we have to edit anyway.  This is why we have to listen to our critique partners and beta readers, even when we disagree with their comments.  Their confusion or mistaken interpretation tells us that our words aren’t matching our intentions.

I’ve kept myself going through grueling edits by reminding myself that I feel just as giddy at the thought of sharing my work with others as I do during drafting.  Oftentimes, that thought makes me more giddy, because at that future-published point, the work would be done.  *smile*

Do you write for yourself, your readers, or both?  Do you shift your focus during the writing process of a project?  If you enjoy one step more than another, is it because of your reason for writing?  Do you find it hard to write for others?

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What do you think?

56 Comments on "Do You Write for Yourself or Your Readers?"

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Susan Kaye Quinn

I think I flip back and forth between what I want to write and what I want the readers to read (if that makes any sense). At all times, I’m sanding down the rough edges to get to the nugget of my story. Great post!

Marc Vun Kannon

I started out writing just for myself. My first book wasn’t written to be published, I decided to do that later. My editor wanted me to cut out some crucial sections because I hadn’t made it clear how it fit into the story. I knew what was happening, and I was assuming that readers would make the same connections I had. So I added text to make the connections clear.
I still write mainly for me, but as I write I pay more attention to what I write and put down the connections that earlier on I would have inferred. I figure six months from now I may forget myself what this passage meant, so I’d better write it down. I do computer programming and the lack of documentation annoys me there as well, so I’m getting better at writing it all down.

Paul Anthony Shortt

Both, really. Although, what I want from my writing is to share stories and make people happy through them. Even at my initial stages, I want to make a story that as many people as possible can enjoy. I honestly find very little to seperate between how I would write for myself and how I would write for my readers.

Raelyn Barclay

I write for my first reader and myself, writing stories I want to read. And yes, that writing of the first draft is my favorite part. However, my aim is to see my name on the cover of a book 🙂 and I know I need learn to edit for a broader audience.

Excellent post!

Jill Kemerer

I agree with you on this. I write for both, but I really pay attention to what my critique partners point out, even if it’s just a phrase that isn’t sitting well. It means something got lost in translation!

Laura Pauling

If I was just writing for myself I wouldn’t be trying to find an agent or get published. I def. keep readers in mind but I write what I love to read – so I’m really doing both. 🙂

Shain Brown

The story starts out, as you said, something I want out of my head. Once I complete the draft it’s all about making sure there aren’t story holes and make sure it makes sense. From there I am ready to cut, chop, change and do whatever I need to for the reader. And frankly, I am okay with that.

Lisa Gail Green

You know, I never really thought about it past the initial stages. And the only reason I’ve thought of THAT is that it clicked with me when I decided to just not worry and write something that was pure “fun”. Something that I would want to read, thinking maybe someone else might too. But yeah, I guess I do shift focus during editing. I think we kind of have to to some extent.

Susan Sipal

Jami, I think your post has a lot to say about POV, actually. One of the things I’ve learned through the critiquing/editing stage is how different other people’s POVs are from my own. When I see how someone else interprets the word or phrase I thought was clear to my meaning, I really get an window-opening into a new perspective. These kind of feedbacks help me see things through someone else’s eyes and that helps me develop the POV of my characters. 🙂

Suzi McGowen

I write the stories I want to read. When viewed like this, I write for my “ideal reader”. However, I’m not a good judge of my own writing, so I also write for my First Reader. My son, Michael. Sadly, Michael doesn’t like my current WiP, Penny’s Luck. (It’s not his preferred genre.)

I just like telling stories. I like people hearing/reading my stories. But if I’m not interested in the story, I won’t do a good job telling it 🙂

Sarah Pearson

You’ve really given me something to think about here, I’m wondering if I need to change my mind-set just a little. Maybe it woud help with the editing. I’ve discovered that I’m not very good at that!

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

As with Marc, I’m also a computer programmer, and I’ve picked a few things up from that day job.

I really like getting the stuff I’ve done into the hands of people. I want them to use it, find it useful, and I want to make their lives just a bit better for having it.

I’m finding the same applies to my writing. I don’t know whether it’s my narcissistic need to be the center of attention, my need for validation in the face of insecurities, or perhaps just a desire to share something with others that will bring a little bit of joy to their lives. (I like to think it’s the latter.)

I also just like to create, and I really want to get these stories out of my head without taking Prozac or some such.

Tiffany A White

Honestly, I’d say that I write my first draft for me. I’m telling the story that I want to tell, getting the voices out of my head. Then, I edit for the reader. I edit to peak and keep the reader’s interest. So, I guess my answer is both.

Darlene Steelman

I do the same thing, Jami. I start out with a story inside me that I have to get down on paper, a computer screen or a piece of bark. Whew!
Now the foundation is built, but hey, it needs more.
So then I add to it as I think of the reader. Who is my target audience? How can this be better?
What will make my story epic?

Thanks for a great post!

Darlene

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

Years ago when I started writing I wrote for myself. I’d scrawl all over legal pads and write stories not even realizing I could one day be published.
Then I got a laptop, met my critique partners, attended my first Georgia Romance Writers meeting, my first Romance Writers of America conference, acquired Beta readers, pitched to agents and editors, earned a boatload of requests and, well…my entire focus shifted.
I realized that I not only write stories for me, but like you, I feel giddy at the thought of others reading my work.
If I didn’t care about that I’d still be scrawling away on legal pads to this day.
I write for me, but also for the reader.
Thought provoking post Jami!
Have a great afternoon!!:)
Tamara

Gene Lempp

When drafting, I write with my expected readers “in mind”, but I let the story take the course its going to take. After that pass, then the readers move to the front of the thinking. They are the ones that have to read and understand what I put down and I merge this with word choice, nuance, etc. I like drafting far more than editing but, as I want to be published, I can suffer through it for those that will one day get to enjoy it.

Great post, Jami 🙂

Melinda Collins

During my first drafts, I’m definitely only writing the story for myself – and for the characters. But when I’m starting the editing process, my focus definitely shifts and writing for the reader takes center stage. I still feel like I’m editing for myself in a small way since I look at it as something I’d want to read, so it needs to be near-perfect, but I also think about whether or not my southern phrases will be taken right way (as an example) by the audience I’m seeking.
I haven’t found any beta-readers just yet, but this is a process that I’m most looking forward to. I’ve a bit more editing to do with this second round, but I’m totally excited to get feedback from a reader’s standpoint on the book as a whole. 🙂

David
Oh man, this is a GREAT topic, Jami. Seriously, you should consider putting together a “self-help” book about writing topics for learning/struggling/veteran writers to get them to really think about their craft. I find I can really only write for myself. I recently tried adapting my Grandma’s book into a screenplay, and I just couldn’t piece it together properly. I don’t have the same passion for HER project as SHE does. But I do know that giddy feeling of threading a story together – those beginning phases. I get so excited and, for weeks, it’s all I can talk about (quite annoying for my wife, lol). I guess with writing screenplays, it’s different. You wouldn’t “write for your readers” in the same way as if it were a novel. Because they’re interpreted differently. The way you would consider your reader for a novel, and make edits that way; is different than the way you’d edit for a screenplay, keeping certain visual elements in mind. I might change a sentence of business just to make it quicker and easier to read. I don’t have any real, experienced beta readers at this point but I am building up contacts and growing socially. So who knows. And, in writing mainly for myself and not looking at financial success as a solid goal, it’s undetermined how long it’ll take for me to finish these ideas – much like you said. But it sure does make me happy – and I guess that’s the most… Read more »
Joanna Aislinn

I feel like a reader as I write, often waiting while my characters take the story in directions I hadn’t expected. Translation: if it’s not for me first, then chances are, it’s not getting written anyway. That could, however, change with time and experience.

Nice post, Jami!

Natalie C. Markey

Great post! I always write with the world and characters in mind. If I find them important enough to put to paper then I find them important enough to share and I want them to get out of my head! As the writing process continues it shifts to the readers that I hope will enjoy the story as much as I do writing it.

Happy Friday!

Natalie

Ron Leighton

For better or worse, I don’t really know how to write for others. Perhaps I will learn to. Also for better or worse, I simply write the fantasy that I want to read. 🙂

Writing for others (finding what people like and writing that) is not bad, I think, as long as you put your heart and uniqueness in it. Besides, while it may be easy to discover what people like, it is not necessarily so easy to write what they like.

Ron Leighton

My English instructor (yes, I take English, but if you can’t tell, its because it’s early in the semester), recently said reading, writing and thinking are like the Holy Trinity, triune, three-in-one, inseparable. If that is true, as I believe it is, then, by extension, when we are writing for others, we are writing for ourselves as well.

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Donna Newton

Hi Jami,

The first novel I wrote? I thought I was writing it for my audience, but no….it was all for me.

My second novel I plotted with Kristen and Piper. Even though it had ‘me’ written all over it, it was soley for my readers.

But, my second novel was put on hold when I was asked to adapt a teleplay I’d co-written into a novel. Originally, the pilot script was something I’d never thought of writing before. I like mystery and crime, and this was paranormal. But, as the characters were built, I fell in love with them. I am writing this novel for my audience. I like to frighten and shock, and that is purely aimed at my reader….however, I’m secretly harbouring a crush on my male protagonist (and that is something which is all mine).

Great post, Jami xx

Kyla
I don’t struggle with this as much as I used to. The first time I ever wrote a story, I was 5 years old. And I took it very personally that that story wasn’t of the same quality as the books I was soaking in, even at that age. I wanted to be good enough for people to know what I meant NOW, not have to actually, heaven forbid, work for it. This annoyance continued to the point where I refused to write more than the odd tidbit of my stories on paper for around 6 more years. I can even be quoted by people as saying that someone needs to invent a machine that can communicate a person’s thoughts to another person, so that other people could see and experience my stories, too (I was a highly imaginative creature; my friends always played in my stories as main characters, even if I refused to write the things down back then). When I was around 11 or 12 years old, I started writing stories, poems, and songs down on paper, despite the annoying translation difficulties (why can’t other people just see what I see?). It was more of a compulsion that I’d been fighting most of my life, and, plus, people don’t look at you as weird when you walk around talking to yourself at that age if you have an excuse like you’re writing a book. I can honestly say I have always wrote my stories (both in my… Read more »
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Serena Yung
Serena Yung
At first, I was purely writing for myself, because it didn’t make sense to NOT satisfy myself if I wanted to get any pleasure out of the writing. But later on, I found it was TOO EASY to satisfy myself. So the task wasn’t challenging enough anymore, lol. And it felt like I could write just about anything, because it seemed like I was too open-minded of a person that I can like and accept a lot more things than the average person can, haha. So yeah, not challenging enough equals not fun enough, lol. So I decided to write A LITTLE for my friends and family, or at least for an imaginary reader. Another reason why I started to care a little bit more about the audience, is because I was starting to sympathize with them, so I would want to make sure my writing is easy enough to understand, though I still enjoy using the occasional slightly harder word, even though some of my readers aren’t very good in their English reading ability. XD. But I still try to make my sci fi explanations as easy to get as possible. I’m happy to say that I’m at least partially successful in this, because a friend who normally doesn’t like reading, as he often gets confused by what the writer is saying, said that my sci fi explanations were very easy to understand! And he said he was glad because some writers expect readers to be able to guess… Read more »
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