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For Whom Do We Write and Why and How?

Writing’s paradoxical. Write for yourself. But have the reader in mind. But write for the sake of writing. But make sure it’s good enough to be read and (hopefully) published. Of course, that’s creative, fictitious writing. What about blogging? Blogging is extra egotistic. You can say whatever you want, about whatever you want and publish it by yourself as easily, and as quickly, as you can click a button. And then you actually expect people to read what you’ve written. People you’ve never met, who know nothing about you and have no reason to care about what you have to say. People who really have no business caring about whatever problems you’re either making light of or melodramatizing for their reading pleasure.

Blogging is probably, for me, the ultimate combination of writing for others and yourself at the same time, from the moment your fingertips touch the keyboard. On the one hand, it’s very much a thing of vanity, in the same way self-publishing is often referred to as  vanity publishing. You do it so you can say (and/or feel), hey look, there are people who read what I write — don’t I feel special for having readers? Aren’t I such a great writer? I’m published, on the internet, for the whole world to read! But, while it is very self-centred in one sense, you also tend to be be very aware of the fact that people will read what you’re writing — and very soon. You’ll “publish” it as soon as it’s “perfect” or sometimes just “good enough” and people will read it (if they do at all) somewhat immediately. It doesn’t have to go through any third parties. No one has to validate what you’ve written. No one censors it. No one even looks it over for spelling errors. This sounds pretty powerful, but in itself, it isn’t. Because you need readers. Readers are what makes it powerful. Without readers, you’re just some loser, sitting at a keyboard. Writing for yourself.

Credit: students.washington.edu

But what about “real” writing? Fiction writing? Fiction that you don’t plan on self-publishing online? Who do you write it for? For yourself? Or for your readers? Who knows if you’ll ever even have readers? Who knows if it will ever even be published? And if it is published, so what? What then? Will it last? If it’s in a magazine, will it ever be read more than once, before the magazine is tossed to the side to make way for the next issue? If it’s a book, will it sell? Will it survive? Or will it shortly (or even not so shortly) go out of print — which to me sounds like the most horrible, tragic thing imaginable.

And what matters, anyways? Success when a book is published, during the author’s lifetime? Or a book that doesn’t go out of print for years and years, even after the author has died, but didn’t have much acclaim while the author was living? Of course, I’m thinking of literary fiction here. In principle, I think that’s all that really counts. That’s all I think is worthy of a writer’s time. I know this probably sounds very snobby, and I’m probably stepping on a few feet (something I tend to accidentally do literally). But I stand by that. Because, while I’m on this whole, existential, why do we write, “to be or not to be” style rant, I may as well throw the literary vs. “mainstream” fiction debate into the mix. I mean, yes, sure, people who write bestsellers must enjoy their vanity-filled, money-making fifteen minutes of fame. But then what? What happens when those fifteen minutes (or in some cases fifteen years) of fame end? Some may argue that those few authors are pretty damn happy, sipping champagne from the top of their piles of money. “Who cares that they’ll be forgotten?” some people say. Well I think, that if they’re real, introspective, insightful writers, then they should care. What about leaving a legacy? Don’t people care to change to world? To leave something behind? To touch other’s lives for longer than the time it takes them to get from the front cover to the back?

I probably sound like a bit of a naïve, idealistic teenager. But I know this, which tends to get in the way of that wonderful, youthful idealism. In fact, this idealism takes a hit from reality quite often. And, perhaps because of the way I cleave to this idealism, reality tends to come at me like a slap in the face and leave me sore for days. I sit up on my (very) high horse, criticizing authors like E. L. James (the woman gave the world the pleasure of Fifty Shades of Grey), whose work I would never condescend to read, and yet I often wonder who am I to criticize? At least this E. L. James woman has taken pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and had enough discipline to sit down and get out enough words to fill three entire “novels” (if they’re even deserving of that title). And yet, here I am, criticizing myself for criticizing her, and I can’t even do that without poking fun at her and her books.

I’ve been focussing my writing energies on blogging lately and with less feeling I should be doing it and more just doing it. But then I feel as though blogging isn’t real writing. I feel as though it “doesn’t count”. Because, after all, who’s going to read my blog a hundred years from now? Is there even anyone who’s still reading my posts from a month ago? The awesome, brilliant posts that I put so much love and effort into and care about with all my heart and soul?

And so, with this slightly pressing upon the back of my mind, and feeling a little unsettled that I haven’t written any fiction in the past few weeks, I opened up a notebook, hoping to try out a writing prompt. When I opened the notebook, I found a little sketch I had been working on recently, but abandoned (or got distracted from) after about a page and a half. It was a great idea. Very meta-fictitious. Very satirical. Very awesome. So I started adding to it. Tried to move it forward. But I couldn’t. Because I started thinking too much. What was I going to do with it? Who was going to read it? Could I really make it good enough for people to actually get it? For people to actually enjoy? Could I really pull it off?

Cartoon credit: offthemark.com

My problem, and I assume it’s a very common problem and why there aren’t even more people who have written books, is that once the initial excitement wears off, after the moment of inspiration passes, I get tired of it. I can’t seem to keep going. I get bored of what I’m working on. No, bored probably isn’t the right word. What I get is stressed. I do this thing where I forget how to breathe. I forget how to keep my butt where it is and keep going. I imagine that I’ve forgotten how to write. Because, instead of focussing on writing, I’m focussing on editing the only three words I have until perfection. I’m focussing on what’s going to become of what I’m writing once it’s written. I’m focussing on how certain people may perceive the sentence I’m about to write, but haven’t even gotten onto the page yet.

Writing is a paradox. You need the idealism. You need the inspiration. But you need to be realistic. You need to be persistent. You need to sit down and (very unromantically) get some words onto the page. You have to sit for hours. Sometimes you have to avoid people. And stay away from the internet. But, funnily enough, I think the idealism, the naiveté, the total abandon is most important while you’re unromantically plowing through pages, cranking out some words, trudging through the first draft. It isn’t how you’d idealize the writer’s life, but it’s what needs the most idealism. That’s when you have to stop caring what will happen to it and just write. Write for yourself, write thinking of the best possible fate for your darling brainchild or write thinking nothing at all.

Then rationality and reality can probably return when you edit. Then you can set the inner critic loose and think about what’s going to become of it. All the hoops you’ll have to jump through. All the revisions you’ll have to make to your precious baby. But by then, you’ll have something. And you’ll be proud of it. And (after some time has elapsed and you can look at it realistically again and not as a peace of perfection that’s just emerged from your brilliant brain) you’ll be able to make changes. I’ve seen copies of (and original) manuscripts from classic, brilliant authors and they’re all the same. The rough drafts all crossed out and rewritten and scribbled over so much, you can scarcely see the original text. I imagine very little of what we read was written the same (or even included at all) in the first draft. And yet, there was once a first draft. Even writers whose work is being read years after they died started as a terrible, awful rough draft. And those masterpieces couldn’t have been edited and become what they are now without those original drafts, because without those drafts, there would have been nothing to edit.

Of course, realizing and writing all that was the easy part — now all I have to do is internalize it and try to take some of my own advice. What about you? Do you have any sage wisdom to share? Why do you write? Who do you write for? How do you get through those first drafts? And, most importantly, do you think blogging counts?

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About Elizabeth Anne

I’m obsessed with novels, short stories, poetical works &c., and my family has refused to put up with my ranting and raving about these things any longer, so I’ve decided to ramble to you, the internet.

13 responses »

  1. I can’t really say I’m a writer. I blog. And I blog mostly for myself. And I’m not scared to admit that. I think blogging counts. Sometimes it’s refreshing to read what a normal person is thinking. I love reading sth that hasn’t been polished. I love reading the raw emotion that some bloggers have, emotions that would definitely have been toned down by an editor in a publishing house. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a work of fiction now and then, but ever since I discovered the blogosphere I’ve been hooked. It’s very enjoyable to read about someone’s day without any polishing. A normal day full of normal happenings. But that’s just me.

    And it’s true that we’re our own worst enemies. I really really hate criticizing myself and my work, so I never go thru my drafts more than once. If I did I’d never publish them.

    Reply
    • Do you think editors make writers tone down raw emotion? Or do they just make them distill it and refine it, so that it’s perhaps less raw but also perhaps more powerful? And do you think the editors are even the ones doing this? Or maybe the writers do some of it before they even hand it off to an editor?

      I’m not saying you’re wrong, and those aren’t rhetorical questions — really, what do you think? I’m not in the grownup world of editors (or anything such) yet, so I really wouldn’t know.

      I’m also not trying to devalue blogs or the raw emotion you talk about. I do think it’s interesting to read about someone’s day just as it was. I think every day life happenings are very interesting and those are the kinds of blogs I like to read. But, that being said, I don’t know what blogs you’re following, but perhaps they’re a little more polished than they appear? Maybe they talk about everyday life and the raw emotions it produces, but they polish it in a way that doesn’t seem polished? Personally I definitely tend to stick to the more “polished” blogs about just everyday life. And as for fiction, I tend to read more fiction than blogs, but the fiction I generally enjoy often focusses on the simple, unpolished, everyday life that you enjoy so much in blogs.

      Reply
      • Powerful points there. I’d really hate to be in a debate with you as an opponent..:) I really don’t have that much experience with what goes on in publishing houses etc so I can’t give you a good answer. It may be the books I’ve read have instilled the notion in me that sth has been diluted, watered down or omitted etc.It’s true that there are fiction books that actually balance everything out. However sometimes I just like reading sth written by the ‘common’ man or woman in the street who has no commercial interest whatsoever…
        That’s just a slice of what I think if I find out more you’ll be the first to know 🙂
        P.S and yes now that you mention it some of the blogs I follow are actually very polished…

        Reply
  2. I always forget that you are a teenager because you write with a wisdom well beyond your years. I really enjoyed this post, and I agree that if you are serious about writing, and not just serious about writing a best-seller, that you should strive for something that will leave a legacy. I’m like you in that I don’t really consider blogging to be “real writing”. For me it is more of an exercise; to start writing something, finish it, and see if anyone will read it, and respond to it. The instant gratification and feedback from people keeps me going when I don’t think I have anything of interest to say. I spend a lot of time making jokes and trying to write posts that entertain, but I hope when I get something real written, it will be something that makes people feel something other than a quick laugh, or five seconds of distraction. Keep up the good work 🙂 Try not to discount your opinions and ideals because of your youth. Life will try to beat those out of you, but if you allow them to endure and continue to flourish in your writing, I think it will inspire many to rediscover their own lost, or dusty youthful idealism.

    Reply
    • I guess that pretty much sums up why I blog — seeing if I can accomplish it, seeing if anyone will read it, seeing if anyone will respond. Of course, the instant gratification of those “some one liked your post” notifications also plays a big part 🙂

      And thanks for the encouragement about my youth and idealism — sometimes, I think my biggest fear is that others will discount me and my opinions because they think that all I am is just some stupid kid. Which I’m not — pinky swear 😉

      Reply
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  4. On the subject of literary vs mainstream, specifically on mainstream authors not leaving a legacy or “touch[ing] other’s lives for longer than the time it takes them to get from the front cover to the back”… um, no, I don’t think they worry much about it. They want to tell stories and entertain, so that’s what they do. Sure, maybe there are some writers out there who aspired for more and then “sold out” — and yes I know it’s fiction, but the main character of Stephen King’s Misery comes to mind… and look how well things turned out for him when he tried to get back to writing what he wanted instead of what was popular — but I think that most mainstream authors write the kinds of stories that they enjoy.

    Anyway, literary and mainstream books will always both have a place. Readers are going to read whatever appeals to them. It’s the same with music. It’s the same with movies. It’s the same with any form of art.

    As for getting yourself to write instead of edit the same three words over and over again, you should try NaNoWriMo.

    Reply
    • I tried Camp NaNoWriMo in June. It didn’t work. It may work for normal people, however, I’m anything but a normal person. So it just turned me into a nervous ball of stress and I had to quit. And I don’t think the 10,000 words I managed to get out were good at all… Of course, I wouldn’t know — the experience left me so emotionally scarred that I still haven’t been able to bring myself to look over what I wrote…

      Also, I understand that mainstream authors don’t really care/think about the whole legacy thing — I just think it’s kind of sad… But, that being said, your point about it applying to all art forms got me thinking; I don’t really care what kind of music I listen to — it doesn’t bother me at all that Nikki Minaj’s songs won’t have any lasting impact, and I’m happy to listen to her songs without worrying about that.

      Reply
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