Who Do You Write For? Who, who? Who who?

Glasses Hang I have a friend who actually writes for a living (I have a few of those actually). This particular person writes for a game company. I’d be wrong if I told you that didn’t make me a little jealous, but that’s a WHOLE ‘NOTHER post. So he says on Facebook “One of the most oppressive yet necessary aspects of writing fiction, at least for me, is the constant awareness that I am writing for other people.” That made me raise an eyebrow.

One thing I have often been told is, you need to write for yourself. You need to create what you think is cool/neat-o/awesome. “To thine own self be true”. Etc. There’s some truth to that, but upon further questioning my friend, he said “Because, you see, if I’m writing just for myself, I have nothing to say that I don’t already know. So basically I have to think about other people actually reading my stuff if I am going to write in the first place.”

Setting aside for the moment whether or not you agree with that as a motivation for writing, this is actually good advice when you talk about the craft of writing. One issue I’ve had pop up time and again in my rough drafts is my brain taking short cuts. I know what’s supposed to happen and where and when (sometimes anyway). Trouble is, not all of those things make it on to the page. For example, in the Ginnie Dare sequel I mentioned the Perry-Gamblin drive fairly early on, without saying what that is. Part of my brain assumed that the reader would know that that was the name for the FTL drive (and in that there’s an assumption that you would know what “FTL” means). My editor, angelic demon spawn that she is, was quick to point out that I needed to clarify. That aspect alone makes my friend’s post worthwhile.

This is why you often get the advice “let your writing breathe”. You need to set aside your work long enough so that you come to it with fresh eyes. Then hopefully you’ll catch things like that. You need to read this like you’re a complete stranger to any and all most of the ideas contained within. Since that’s not completely at all possible, you need to at least get a beta reader involved. It may even be worthwhile to get someone who doesn’t read in that genre to check it out. Their unfamiliarity with the tropes may lead to changes that make your fiction more accessible.

Now, on to what I think he really meant. The purpose of his writing a story is so that someone else can read it. I grok that after thinking about it. As someone with a rich imagination, I often tell myself stories that no one else gets to see. When I get an idea that I want to share, I have to write it down to do it justice. In other words, I’m writing for other people. Am I also writing for myself? Sure. I get pleasure from the act of writing. Taking my thoughts and putting them on paper or LCD screen can help me flesh them out. In fact there are a few stories in electronic files that I’ve written almost solely for me. I may or may not ever share them. I wrote them as either an experiment or an exercise, and thus those are only for my benefit. If I ever released those I would have to go through them and at least re-write them for someone else.

So here’s the Q&A – Who do you write for and why do you write? What do you think of my friend’s notions?