I know many writers say you should only write for yourself, and to an extent I think this is excellent advice. After all, the story has to come from you. It needs to matter to you, if you want it to matter for others – you infuse your words with life, passion, and excitement, even in the most sad and tragic ways. People are fickle. The things that are skyrocketing in popularity this week won’t even be remembered the next, and you can never please everyone anyways. You have to write for yourself, if you want to find any contentment in your work at all.
But at the same time, I don’t think that should be the end of the sentence. I think we need to approach our work as follows “Write for yourself, tell the story you mean to tell – and listen discerningly to those around you, so your words connect deeply with the world.”
I have a book that’s been approximately thirty pages long since I was about sixteen. A couple friends have read it, and the old draft of it is posted on a writing website. I have felt just so-so about the project since I started it back then, which is why it never grew beyond the initial burst of words. I think it’s a perfectly fine story, I just haven’t had a burning urge to tell it. Other stories have always cropped up in it’s place.
The thing that’s been so intriguing is that people continue to ask me about it. Friends, out of nowhere, after months of not having talked, will ask if I’ve finished that story yet. Strangers on the writing website periodically ask if I’m still working on it – and ask again, and again a few months later. Even a former teacher asked me about this story specifically.
Yes, I write for myself first and foremost. I tell the story that’s inside me – I ask others’ advice to make sure it’s well-told, and I make edits and revisions based on their thoughts, but I never change the heart of a story. But after all this time, and all these questions, I’m haunted by the possibility that there’s something to this particular story that I’m missing. It seems strange that it has resonated with people – as incomplete and, frankly, horrendous as those thirty pages are – and that they remember it still.
I’ll be honest. I reread it, and I still felt nothing more than mild interest. But I’m going to give it a shot. As writers, we have the gift of words – the capacity to tell stories and weave a kind of magic that not everyone is able to perform. We should celebrate our abilities, we should enjoy them, and we should stick to what we believe about the way we use them – but not so much so that we waltz around the universe believing ourselves the most important people in it. Just because something might not please you, doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable to create. You see the inside of things, but let’s not discount the outside either. Sometimes we have to humble ourselves and hear what people are saying – and take the chance that they’re right.
And if, in a few weeks, I’ve given it a wholehearted attempt and it’s still nothing but rubble and broken words, well – what have I lost? If anything I’ll come out of it with the right to say “I told you so”.