Friday, February 4, 2011

Who Are You Writing For?

Sometimes when I'm working on a book or short story, I start to get bogged down in the details, in the anxiety of being perfect and scintillating and sparkling with wit. Is this sentence vibrant, is that verb active, is this character complex/deep/likable enough, is that plot line going to be strong enough? And I lose my way, creatively speaking.

Now, vibrant sentences, active verbs, strong and complex characters--those are valid concerns. I want the story to be the best it can be. I want my writing to be clear, strong, and concise.

But at the same time, I've discovered something about myself.

When I fret about editors and agents and being perfect and what will people on GoodReads think?? and on and on and on while I'm writing the rough draft, it KILLS THE STORY.

Today I had to take a metal step back from a project that I was slowly strangling to death with anxiety and I asked myself sternly: Just who am I writing this for, anyway?

Am I writing this story to impress those editors and agents? Am I writing it for the people on GoodReads? Am I writing it for my mom, my next door neighbor, my sister, my cousins? Who?

I thought about it for a second. And my answer was the one it always is--I write every story for my teenage best friend Nikki and my teen self. If I could put my books in a time capsule, strap that baby to a time machine, and send them back, I would do it. And just realizing that again made me breathe a sigh of relief. It helped me focus. And I realized something else.

You can't write for everybody.

At least I can't. I know I can't please everybody. So why do I even try? Even worse, when I sit down and try to bang out a story that will impress and stir the hearts of a vague, hazy-in-my-mind audience of people I don't know, I freeze up. I get "write fright" (astonishingly similar to stage fright in my case).

So my advice to myself and every other writer out there is this. Don't do it! Don't write for everyone. Write the book that you (or whoever you are writing for) would love. Focus on that, and make it the best book you could possibly give yourself or whoever your lucky recipient/beta reader/cheerleader/best friend may be. And then, when you're done with your first draft and you're editing and cutting and making it pretty and shiny for the rest of the world to see, you can expand that focus.

And who knows? Maybe your book will speak to more people than you thought it would when you wrote it. Everyone brings their own imagination to the table, and we have more in common with others than I think we realize.

But don't let yourself be paralyzed creatively by the thought of "everyone."

Here's a few links to posts I found relevant/fascinating today. The first is a frightening inclusion in Macmillan's contracts that you should be aware of, and the second is a post from the brilliant blog Wordplay about common mistakes editors see. (But don't let it kill your creativity! Absorb the advice and log it away for revision!)

{Macmillan's freaky new contract clause}


{The four most common mistakes fiction editors see}


  1. Very good advice! Write for yourself (or best friend) and just enjoy the writing. Editing is when you open the door to everything else. Keep up the good work - it's sounds like you're right on track. :)

  2. great point katie! (one i need to get through my thick skull!)
    that clause!?!?!?! that's HORRIBLE!!! thanks for the warning!

  3. Gah! Thanks for the warning about that clause by pointing me to the other site. All the more reason we writers NEED AGENTS. Who are hopefully up on all that scary stuff.

    Good point too about being petrified by worry about a novel's outcome/end result. Yeah--don't think about that while you're writing. I have to force myself NOT to polish as I go. I like to tidy, but not fret and polish. That will come later...

  4. @aspiring_x, @Carol Riggs

    That clause is a nightmare. I think we should all be sure to spread the word about it so none of our friends get suckered into it! And that kind of thing is EXACTLY why I want an agent.


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