Who Am I Writing This For Anyhow?

I was once given the unsolicited advice that my writing should be for me.  At the time I wasn’t very polite in my response, but as I said I didn’t ask for the advice.

Writing is not easy.  If you think writing is easy, you’ve never done it.

Writing can be fun, especially the part when you’re dreaming up the story, the characters, the world, but the actual act of placing that story into words and committing it to paper is a long, arduous, and painstaking process.  It takes blood, sweat, tears, and a whole lot of coffee to get a finished manuscript, and then comes the cycle of submission, rejection, submission, rejection, until you have a mental break and start to consider a “real” job.  Writing is not for the faint of heart.

Coming up with stories, storytelling, that part is for me.  I love to tell stories.  The process of coming up with characters, imagining new worlds, and becoming entrenched in it and the lives of these characters, that part is for me.  But writing, sitting for nights into months into possibly years on end, putting the words on paper, that part is most definitely not for me.  I’m a lazy lady, no joke.

So why bother?  If the fun part is in dreaming it up, why write it all down?  Now some people might be saying at this point: well, for the money obviously.  To which I laugh, hysterically.  Celebrity writers like Neil Gaiman and JK Rowlings, who have turned millions off their books, are rare success stories.  Most writers are lucky if they can make ends meet without a second job.

So...who am I writing this for anyhow?

The answer is actually very simple.  If you can’t figure it out, you’re thinking about it way too hard.

Struggling a bit?

Okay, fine, I’ll help you out.

It’s the readers.  (Doh!-moment, maybe?)

Remember back in English class when your teacher talked about the part in the writing process when you identify your audience (aka, the readers)?  Being able to identify your readers is important in determining how to write the story because only in knowing who your readers will be, can you then ask important questions of your characters and the plotline during the development and writing stages.  Will the readers relate to the character’s emotional dilemmas?  Will they understand the dialogue?  Will they be interested or invest themselves in the conflicts?

Over the course of human history, storytelling has become an elitist trade that many now romanticize with notions of self-fulfillment and personal expression, but storytelling has always been a craft of entertainment that communicated to a wide audience the different states of the human condition.

How is that any less romantic, you wonder?

Okay, maybe I’ve a bit of a romanticized view of storytelling as well, but look at the first definition of storytelling, it is all focused on the writer and his/her experience and what the story he/she tells means to him/her. Now look at the second definition, it is all about the audience (readers) and their experience and what the story being told means to them.

The story is not the writer’s story; it’s the characters’ story.  And the story being told is not for the writer’s benefit, but for the reader to enjoy and experience.

So what is in it for the writer?

Well, for me it’s always been in seeing and hearing about the readers’ response.  The way they cry when the protagonist loses a dear friend, the way they become angry when the antagonist seems to be winning, the way they light up when the lovers first kiss, and feel torn when the lovers must part with no hope of seeing one another again, only for them to feel overwhelmed with insurmountable joy when the lovers reunite at last.

For me, the readers’ experience with the story is like a way of constantly reliving my experience dreaming up the story for the first time, that fun part that comes before all the tedious writing.

Typically in writing, we (the writers) have a tendency towards fantasy-fulfillment as the basis of our stories.

Maybe our main character is a downtrodden teenage girl, unpopular at school and constantly picked on.  Maybe, she’s a reflection of our self, the writer, and maybe we want her to miraculously transform into a total ass-kicking babe, to stand up to her bullies and beat them into submission, gain the attention of the school heartthrob, and together they ride away into the sunset towards some unknown happily ever after.

But when you’re writing for an audience, it forces you to forgo your own selfish desires for the story and its characters and write what you know will make the best story for the readers and, if you’re honest, ultimately for yourself.

So that maybe our main character is still a downtrodden teenage girl, unpopular at school and constantly being picked on.  Maybe she’s still a reflection of our self, the writer, but maybe she doesn’t undergo a miraculous transformation.  Maybe her life rains and then pours on her.  Maybe her parents get divorced, her brother jumps off a bridge, her dog runs away.  Maybe her best friend betrays her for the popular crowd, and tells them all the juiciest details of the deepest secrets she once shared with said friend, especially about a crush on a particular heartthrob that only uses the information to humiliate her further.  Yet maybe, at hitting rock bottom, she finds a friend in the least expected of people, perhaps another downtrodden individual that she once scoffed at as beneath her until she realizes her thoughts were no different than those of her bullies, and she learns that standing up to the bullies will only make way for other bullies, and that the only way to truly defeat them is to move past them and find strength and acceptance within herself.

Is that maybe a little better of a story?

It’s not to say that writing for yourself isn’t perfectly acceptable, because it is.  Many people find keeping a private journal very therapeutic, but when you’re writing for someone else, you become accountable to someone else, and for someone else’s experience and emotions.  That’s when you’ll find the motivation to dig deep inside and uncover the greatest story you can tell.

Trust me, write for the readers.  It’ll make all the difference.

  1. Reblogged this on My Day Out With An Angel.

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