Friday, September 24, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Writing For Yourself

Welcome to another HWS meeting! I apologize for the lack of cookies this time—it seems our funds are running low. Do you know how expensive it is to run an imaginary club? But never fear! I have a brilliant plan (brilliant, I say) for replenishing our horde, err, account. Hopefully I'll be able to reveal said brilliance next week or the week after.

We are gonna be rich, guys. I'll be able to put caviar on the cupcakes. Not that I would, because that sounds gross, but I could.

Anyway, today I want to talk about something that seems to get harder and harder in this social media age: Writing for yourself.

To quote one of my own tweets (classy, I know): I write for myself, so the story has life. I edit for others, so the life shines through.

When I wrote that, I was having a particularly rough day. I had to write some new material, and every time I typed up a sentence I would think:

"Is that right? Am I following all the rules?"

"Would my agent like that?"

"I wonder if readers would think that's boring."

"Does it contribute to the story? They say every sentence, every word, has to contribute."

"My friends will probably think it's weak."

"Yeah, it's weak. I suck."


Rinse and repeat until I was one frustrated ball of a writer. And then I was all upset that I was so frustrated, so I tried to figure out what was stopping me from getting the words out. I knew the story. I knew what I wanted to happen and that all I had to do was write the dang thing. What was my problem?

Then I realized I had too many voices in my head. Too many people I was trying to listen to while drafting. I was trying to please all these "people," instead of myself.

Writing—the actual process of getting those words on paper (or screen) for the first time—is a very personal thing. While writing can be very social, that time is all you. And it should be that way. You are the artist, the creator. It's your story and you can tell it however you want! Getting that story out, finished, is the most important part of a first draft. Everything else can technically wait. No, really. I'm not saying it has to wait, but it can.

I think we forget how important that is, what with all the advice and tips and endless lists of rules we find everywhere (here included!). We forget that's for after the creative process. It's for revising!

My dear friend Kiersten often tells me that, whatever problems my writing has, my stories and characters always have life. Now, I don't love hearing my books have problems (though inevitable), but I do find her words comforting. Life is important! And that life comes in letting yourself be free to create, explore, and just plain write.

I find that when I write for other people, not myself, I lose that so-called life. That's when my writing becomes something I'm not, when my stories don't work, when I fall "out of love" with the whole process, when I get extremely frustrated.

That first draft? It has to be for you and you alone. You have to think "If others like this story, great! But if not, that's fine because this is my work and I'm proud of it."

Thinking about other people's opinions comes after—that's the revision stage. And it's equally important, because revision helps that life shine through.

So I write for myself as much as possible. It probably sounds selfish, but I think that's really the only way. You have to write the stories you want to tell in the way you want to tell them. It's not about pleasing others at first, or ever, maybe. Sure, we hope others like our work, but could you imagine if Rowling tried to please everyone while writing Harry Potter? It would have been a mess.

This fall, I'm renewing my resolve to write for myself, not with the market or my agent or publishers or even my friends and family in mind. I will write the story I want to write! And I will call it Squishy! And it will be mine! Mwahaha!

Wait, what was I saying?


  1. Ha! Love the Dory bit :-)

    I totally agree, but also agree that it is hard to keep in mind in the midst of critique partners, well meaning relatives and an abundance of writing advice out there. Thanks for 'keeping it real.'

    Have a great weekend!

  2. I love this: "I write for myself, so the story has life. I edit for others, so the life shines through."

    And I love Squishy!

  3. I'm making the cookies - they are in the oven as we speak ;) My little contribution to this imaginary club.

    Thank you for this post. It's the kick in the butt I've needed. I need to stop worrying about everything and just write. Get the words down. Just write.

  4. Now that's the way to do it! I always write for myself first, because I'm the one who has the story to tell. It's MINE.

    I hope that feeling doesn't change when I'm trying to find an agent/editor/publisher, but if it does I'll be back to this post to remind myself :)

  5. Okay! Next time, send out the memo and I'll bring the brownies. I can back brownies and apple pie, that's it. So, between Steena and I, we should be good!

    *grin* GREAT post!


  6. I agree that you have to write for yourself first. You must believe in what you are doing.

  7. Brilliant post. It's so true that you've got to write the first draft for you. It's your story, right? So who better to tell it to?

  8. Thank you! What a breath of fresh air in my world! I was getting so tired of hearing about rules, formulas and the like. I, too, am writing my story because I believe in it.. believe in me. If others like it, GREAT! If not, okay, help me make it even better. :) Thank you!!!!

  9. Great tweet! But I'd watch your back, because if Dorry hears that you've claimed Squishy (even if it's the wrong one), she might come after you...

  10. Writing for yourself in the only way to get that authenticity, that voice that's really you, that energy that makes writing worthwhile.

    I like how you said you edit for others, though. That's exactly how I feel!


    For reals. All-caps love, I tell you. I'm practically singing over here.

    I've started my own version of Squishy this week, and boy is it liberating to tune out the voices and just WRITE. (Especially since I'm in the listen-to-people-and-try-to-make-it-better phase on my first project.)

    Did I already say how much I love this society?

    I did?

    Oh. Huh. Guess it can't hurt to re-emphasize that.

    :) Kayla

  12. Thank you! I so needed to hear this. Back to the fun!

  13. So true! If I over-think it or worry about what other people want, it starts to be un-fun. It should always be fun, especially pre-publication deal when there is not so much pressure!

  14. Thank you for this, Natalie. From now on, whenever all those extra voices start fighting for my attention, I'm going to tell myself, "Natalie gave me permission to be selfish, so you can all just buzz off for now."

  15. I agree. It's for ourselves that we first started, right? Another successful Happy Writers Post. Thanks!

  16. I wrote my first draft without input from others, and had a great time doing it. Foolish me, I thought it was done when I got to the end.

    I've since been in a tail-chasing whirlwind of edits where one beta thinks there's too much detail and another thinks there's not enough.

    Sadly, I haven't tried writing anything new since the end of the first draft and the joy seems to have been swept away. It may be time to pull up a blank screen and remember what it feels like to enjoy writing, rather than revising.

    Thanks for the post (and the cookies from another commenter- so yummmm)!


  17. One of my old English teachers called the voices the "squiggle head" and the "pig head"--the squiggle was the right brain playing around with ideas and language out of sheer happiness, and the pig head was the grammar and story Nazi who was constantly correcting commas and criticizing.

    If the pig head got too loud, the squiggle head stopped playing. Then everybody was unhappy.

    I know it's a goofy way to describe it, but it works for me. And right now I am all about writing for myself. Thanks for helping me on that journey!

  18. This society is AWESOME! I need to remember this: the first draft needs to be for myself.

    I think that's why I love NaNo so much--I can focus on writing and getting the essence of the story down. Now if only I could do that the rest of the year...

  19. This is GREAT! Thanks for this post. It's just what I needed to hear in the midst of my re-write.

  20. That is brilliant. I think that writing for myself is something I forget often. It makes sense to leave that for the second draft. You have to get the story out completely before you can polish it right?

    This is something I have to remember when I write from now on.

    This Society was a great idea... we should have a member's badge or symbol!

  21. That's one of my favourite Kurt Vonnegut rules. "Write for one person." (I think the person he wrote for was his sister.)

    If we had to worry about pleasing everybody in everything we did, we'd all curl up in our beds and never leave.

  22. My problem is that I'm stuck on revision. I can't commit to a final draft because I know it's not good enough to please all those "people." So I keep revising and revising, until at times I fear the original quality is lost.

    Three years and counting!

  23. Loving the Happy Writers Society. I've nominated you for a blog award. You can collect it here:

  24. Yes - thank you for this reminder. There's too many voices in my head and I can't finish my story.

  25. Just the advice I needed right now. Thanks.

  26. It's amazing just how easy this is to forget. Thank you for bringing the truth back up again. I have to echo the above comments: this is so inspiring, and I adore the HWS. Huzzah for re-learning how to be a happy writer! I want to make this my autumn resolution as well.

    You know what I think? This is spectacular even without the cookies.

  27. This is so true! I blogged about this same thing awhile back-- I had so many "rules" in my head, I stopped writing what I really wanted to. Then I realized, it's MY story. I can tell it any way I want.

    Thanks for sharing this! I feel like a happier writer already :)

  28. Haha, Squishy! Maybe we should name our project files that, as a reminder. ;)

  29. Then I realized I had too many voices in my head. Too many people I was trying to listen to while drafting. I was trying to please all these "people," instead of myself.

    That's the very same problem I have all the time! I've found that it's so easy to lose track of the reason I started writing in the first place (because I simply love to write!), and become plagued, even crippled, by fear of that imaginary audience that will one day read my story.

    This was an excellent post, hit the nail right on the head! A lovely reminder. =)

  30. Awesome post- as usual. Have a good weekend.

  31. Wonderful advice, especially your point about how you have to write the stories you want to tell in the way you want to tell them. Whenever I think about whether people would like my stories, it stops me from writing. So you're definitely right about how we have to focus on what we want to say without worrying too much about what other people will think.

  32. You're absolutely right about the many voices in our heads and it kills creativity faster than anything I know. But I'm starting a new project now and I'm making myself a promise to write it just for me. Thank you for this reminder!

  33. Wow, your tweet is pretty quotable. As is this article. So much freedom! Love.

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  35. If your tweet doesn't find its way onto your eventual dust jacket, there will be no justice in the world.

    Sometimes it's easy to get the creative splurge / target audience thing all mixed up, with the result that what you're writing suffers.

    But this succinct tweety adage thing hits the nail on the head.

  36. Hi there,

    We are thinking alike, my blog post today was on this same subject. I was going to save it for later in the week but posted it early so I could include your link.

    Here's my post!