Writing Secrets: Write for yourself, not for others

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

This is a counter-intuitive piece of writing advice.  After all, you want to get your writing out there, I know that. You do want to be read, even if only by family and friends.

But I believe the best way to be read is to write authentically, and be true to yourself. You’ll draw the kind of readers who enjoy what you have to offer, and who are attracted to your writing voice.

If you write to please others, they’ll haunt you. All their expectations will weigh heavily on your shoulders and taunt you. Your writing will emerge stilted and will strike a false note.

Readers are clever. They’ll pick up on that. Never underestimate them.

My feelings about this were confirmed recently when I came across an interview with novelist William Kent Krueger, shortly after publishing This Tender Land.

An earlier novel, Ordinary Grace, had won the Edgar Award for Best Novel, received a great response from readers and led to a further contract for a companion novel.

“Here’s the problem,” he said. “The expectations for that companion novel were huge, crushing even. I spent nearly three years labouring over a story in which I tried to satisfy all those expections.

“Unfortunately, the completed ms fell far short of what I’d hoped.”

In the end, he asked his publishers not to publish his book, and they agreed.

“For me, here’s the beauty of this experience: When all those expectations were lifted from my shoulders and I felt free again, I saw almost immediately the story I should have been writing; a completely different kind of story, one deeply personal.”

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: We all need a little courage to write

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Showing 4 comments
  • Donald Ewan Stevenson

    In this vein J. M. Coetzee has been quoted: “all writing is autobiographical.”

    • Jo-Anne Richards

      Yes, absolutely, thanks Don.

  • Frankie

    “Write for yourself, not for others.” Jo-Anne, this could be my light-bulb moment.
    I’m so, so stuck with trying to write a novel. I’ve got far too many interesting characters – so many,that they start merging together. And my plot gets thicker and thicker, often venturing into depths unknown, but going nowhere.
    Having had the incredible experience of writing a memoir, which is deeply personal, I just can’t find it in me to create fiction. Maybe I must stick to memoirs. Or re-join your mentoring program, to guide me through this quagmire.

  • Jo-Anne Richards

    Well, I didn’t mean one shouldn’t write fiction. I meant, don’t try to write for some imagined audience, or what you think people want to read.

    Frankie, rather stick to a limited cast of characters. And always come back to the main character: what does she want and what stands in the way of her achieving it. That’s the principle that should guide you. (Otherwise, yes, by all means, come back into the mentoring fold. You know we’d love to have you.)

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