On Writing: Who Are You Writing For?

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Several years ago, I had to give my 9-year old son a little pep talk. For about a year he had been trying to design a trading card game, in the same vein as Pokémon. He had started, and quit, about five different versions, and during a conversation about why he had not cleaned his room all month (a dialogue that has become as familiar and loathed as a morning alarm), he confessed to me that he was worried that no one else would ever want to play his game, much less buy his cards. He told me that he couldn’t finish designing a game because halfway through, he’d start thinking about how his cards didn’t compare to what was already out there, and he was worried that he would spend all his time working on something that wasn’t marketable.

I listened to him, and then I said, “Buddy, just do what makes you happy and don’t worry about if it will sell or not.”

But what I was thought was, Buddy, I feeeeel you.

On my computer, I have dozens of unfinished stories that I gave up on because 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 words in I became mired in the swamp of No one is ever going to want to read this. And sometimes when I pull them up, even I don’t want to read them. I was writing for some future agent or publisher, and not for myself, and it shows.

I also have dozens of finished stories on my computer that I love. Sometimes I come across one I haven’t read in a long time and I think, I wrote that? Dang, I’m pretty good. Whether you’re published or not, I imagine many writers struggle to keep writing what they want to write without overly focusing on what readers want to read, or what contracts and agents demand they produce. But if we only write for others, our quality suffers. So make sure that when you are writing, you’re writing for yourself. Don’t focus on your writing’s bankability. Everyone likes toast, sure, but no one gets excited about toast. Toast is safe, but it’s dry. Let your story be the thick, creamy, frothy, luscious, sinful, oozing, painful, burning, spicy, or taboo tale it was meant to be.

Pep talks can be had at Kate@KateLanders.com.