I’ve been hearing the phrase ‘just write for yourself’ a lot lately in workshop ads, blogs and writing forums, and I take umbrage with it.
First and most simply because the idea is too obvious to bother repeating. No one in their right mind would ever sit there and say: ‘hmm…I wonder what the quickest path to fame and fortune is? I know, writing!’. And even if they did they would quickly be discouraged by the rejections, the criticisms and the overall effort needed to even become a published writer never mind a rich and famous one. So because of that I can honestly say that anyone who decides to become a writer does it for themselves already; because they love it, because they burn for it, because they yearn to put their words onto the page for personal and artistic reasons. No writer writes completely for others (or for fame and fortune) because it just doesn’t make sense; the struggle is too great, the game too long for someone who hates it to keep pushing forward.
So then we come to the greater meaning of the phrase.
‘Just write for yourself’ is often (in my experience) paired with this idea that if you want to be published and you want to really make it in the writing world you’re doing something wrong. There’s an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) reluctance to talk about dreams, hopes and goals as a business person/artist. Artists of any kind are often seen as sellouts when they use their work commercially or they make loads of cash. People are often frowned upon and their art taken less seriously when they make it big. I’m sure it’s the same in any art industry as it is in writing and I can’t stand it. It puts artists in a box of almost-divinity where they are expected to do their art solely and completely because it is their sacred duty to do so and therefore it encourages artists to accept less than they’re worth for their work.
Sure writing is a personal journey, but it’s also a journey most writers want to share. Why write a thing down if you don’t want anyone to read it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally on board with writing as release, therapy and catharsis, but I’m also on board with writers who write for the world, who want to be heard and who want to be awarded and rewarded for their efforts.
Who doesn’t want their work read, appreciated, understood? Who doesn’t want to win an award? Who doesn’t want to see their book on their local bookstore shelf or get interviewed and asked about their process? It feels almost taboo just to talk about it, but I want all of those things and I’m pretty sure most writers who are actually trying to be published do too.
There’s a bookstore in my neighbourhood that I walk by almost every day and I talk to it. I say ‘you and me Coles, we got this’ because one day I want a book of mine to be in the window (I just hope it stays open long enough to see that dream realized!). I don’t believe in The Secret or anything stupid like that, but I do believe in having goals, wanting success and striving to be heard.
I write for myself, sure I always have, but I also write for the world. I tell stories because I have things to say and if I have no readers then half the point of saying things in the first place would be missing. If a Star tells a story in the forest and there’s no one around to hear, is there even a point?
So obviously write for yourself, but don’t just write for yourself.
It’s okay to strive for success, it’s okay to want to be heard, to be read, to be admired. It’s okay to be a business person and an artist at the same time. It’s okay to want to be paid for your work. Shit, you put your life and time and heart into your work, the very least you can get back is some cash.
Don’t be afraid to dream big, plan ahead, think about marketing and selling yourself and getting your words out there. You can have both a deeply fulfilling personal artistic practice and a rewarding external writing life. It’s possible and practical.
So don’t just write for yourself; your words are beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking, exciting, sexy, scary, gritty, real, fantastical and most importantly uniquely yours—don’t hoard them, share them with the world!