Write for your readers. Aspiring and published authors hear this advice more often than any other publishing wisdom. But no one warns that following this advice can dampen your passion for writing projects or leave you feeling creatively off course. Worse, it stops you from listening to your wise inner voice.
When you lose your writing mojo or feel frustrated, hopeless, and like becoming a published author is not worth the effort, forget the conventional wisdom. Instead of writing for your readers, write for yourself. And listen to your muse when it says, “Write this!”
By “readers” I don’t just mean consumers of what you’ve written, like book buyers or magazine subscribers. I’m also talking about literary agents, reviewers, acquisitions editors, and publishers. When you write for these readers, you may never produce work that feeds your soul. And you’ll listen to them rather than yourself, too.
Why You Began Writing
Think about why you began writing. You probably felt passionate about a subject or idea, believed you had an important personal story to share, or simply wanted to put meaningful words on paper. You wrote for the joy, excitement, and fulfillment of it.
And then you hear that advice—Write for your readers.—and began to write with a reader in mind. Maybe you created an avatar, a marketing term for your ideal reader. You figured out if your reader was male or female, college educated, had children, and earned a specific amount of money per year. You might have pinned a picture of your ideal reader to the wall next to your computer; you would look at this photo and write to him or her each day.
As part of your efforts to follow the directive provided, you wrote with sales in mind. After all, writing for your reader is also marketing advice. You are told to take heed, and you will sell your manuscript to a publisher and books to readers.
Thus, you listen to these experts rather than to yourself. You ignore your muse and craft ideas you are sure will please to others at the expense of pleasing yourself.
The Best Advice for Writers
Yet, most writers want to write what they feel passionate about writing. They don’t want to worry about marketing, sales, or consumers. In fact, most writers want nothing to do with the business end of publishing. They just want to write. And they want to write what they want to write.
In a recent blog post about following your obsessions, I mentioned hearing author Joyce Maynard speak at the San Francisco Writers Conference](https://sfwriters.org). She offered many words of advice, including two of the best pieces of advice a seasoned writer could contribute to another:
- Stop trying to please anyone but yourself.
- Listen to your own voice—no one else’s.
Let’s look at each one separately.
Stop Trying to Please Anyone but Yourself
Writing for your readers means trying to please them—producing work you think they will like and purchase. No matter how you publish, you’ve been told you must write books that appeal to your audience. That’s what makes your book sell. Hopefully, that book is one you want to write.
But what if the book that pleases you might please your readers? It’s possible. Take novelist Toni Morrison’s word for it. She advised, “Write the book you want to read.”
If you want to become traditionally published, you are likely concerned with pleasing literary agents and publishers, too. After all, these are the gatekeepers to your dream. And given that publishing is a business, they want you to write for your readers, so you sell more books (and increase their income stream).
Pay attention to the moment when your desire to please others as a means to getting published or becoming a successful author causes you to lose sight of the writing work you love…of the reason you began your current work in progress. Notice when you stop following your obsessions in an attempt to be and do what is acceptable by publishing professionals.
That’s when it’s time to return to pleasing yourself first and foremost.
Listen to Your Own Voice
As a result of all your efforts to please the right people, you might stop listening to yourself. You know what you want to write. And you know what you are willing or unwilling to do as your move toward your goal of authorship.
And you know more about your work than anyone else. So listen to your voice…not to the voice of others who will tell you they know better. If you don’t, you may forget to follow your passion and do the writing you find most meaningful.
A Precautionary Tale
Let me serve as a precautionary tale. I spent much too much time trying to please those I thought would help me succeed or knew better than I did. In the process, I stopped listening to my voice and believing in myself and my work—and what I knew about both.
I had an agent who told me I couldn’t write what I wanted to write…until later. As I waited for the “right time,” I lost passion for those projects. I stopped feeling obsessed with the topics and book ideas.
And when he shot down my new ideas as “not on topic” for my readers, not good enough for a publisher of the caliber he wanted to pitch, or “too early” in my career, I turned my attention to subjects that he thought were on target, salable, or on time. I put the passion projects on the back burner, where they dried up and were thrown away.
Still wanting to please, I focused on becoming attractive to publishers and readers. I put in more time on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and TikTok. I wrote blog post after blog post and studied my analytics. I looked for more speaking gigs.
After 18 months spent pitching a project to publishers, I suggested changing the book’s title and rewriting its proposal. My agent disagreed, and I didn’t argue. But, as a result, I lost more confidence in my inherent knowledge and understanding of my work. And six months later, the unsold book project was returned to me.
Over the course of those two years, I lost the courage to speak my mind and the confidence to write about the topics closest to my heart. Instead, I evaluated everything I wrote or wanted to write through the lens of the potential readers for the work and what publishing pros would think of it. Unfortunately, that caused me to doubt the value of my ideas and lack trust in my intuition, passion, and ability to write something of value.
I’m with Maynard
But my work had and has value. What others think of it is their opinion. Period. And what one agent or publisher deems unworthy is another’s bestseller.
So, I’m with Maynard.
Focusing on what others think you should write, listening to industry experts, and writing for your reader is hogwash. Worse, being told to do these things, stops you from listening to your inner voice.
Now is the time to write what’s in your heart, to follow your obsession to the computer and produce the manuscript only you can write—the one that makes your soul sing.
Right now, give yourself permission to please yourself—to write for yourself. And by all means, allow yourself to listen to your inner voice. After all, listening to your inner wisdom is what got you writing in the first place.
Are you writing for yourself and listening to your voice…or not? Tell me in a comment below. And please share this post with a writing buddy.
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Photo courtesy of EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA.