Write for you. Write what you love. Remember me often.
Write for you. Write what you love. Remember me.
I WANT YOU TO ART
WARRIOR-WINTHER GETS RANTY
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
― W. Somerset Maugham
“The whole point about vision is that it’s very individual, it’s very personal, and it has to be confessional. It has to be something which hurts – the pulling out of it and putting it on the page hurts. Art can be about the individual writer’s response to his or her condition, and if that response comes out of a predigested belief about what the audience wants to hear about the writer’s condition, then it has no truth, it has no validity. You either write with your own blood or nobody’s. Otherwise it’s just ink.”
― Clive Barker
I went to listen to a famous author speak the other day. I won’t name names because that is not the point of this blog post. I am not out to attack anyone. I am making a plea for art. The point of this post is to state why I believe what the author advised was wrong and verging on dangerous for writers, especially for emerging and more impressionable writers, many of whom were in the audience. Throw away lines such as write for love, write for therapy, write for yourself etc., can all mean different things but if thrown around carelessly can be misconstrued and squash creativity – especially when used by leaders in the field.
I am aware I write as a young and impressionable writer. Yes, I have a BA in writing and a PhD. I have written a failed novel and I have another novel underway. I have written for as long as I could hold a pen. I am still learning. Still failing. I hope to learn and fail for a long time to come. However, along my writing journey and life journey I have picked up ‘some’ wisdom. Maybe my wisdom is wrong. Maybe it will change over time. I hope it does. Wisdom should evolve. But I have seen enough people, artists, crushed by self doubt and the cutting words of “leaders” that I feel compelled to speak up when I feel like I hear people being shamed for who they are and what they love. So, please read the following and take only from it what feels right for you—because that is what is important. The following are the things I wish someone had told me when I was starting out. They are probably things I will need to be reminded of time and time again.
To quote the famous author in question: “Don’t say you write for yourself. If you write for yourself it is therapy and you are an amateur.”
Let me count the ways no. And then let me back that up with many well-established, and indeed famous, filthy rich authors stating “NO!”
To be clear, writing for your self and writing what you love are two different things but they are very difficult to tease apart. I want to say that the person speaking meant that if you write for yourself you are not considering your audience. If this is what they meant then what they are talking about is the act of journaling. But it could be argued a journal is still written for an audience. However, the rest of the speech didn’t convince me that that is what they meant. I will define writing for your self as writing what you want to write, to read and what you believe is important (the audience is you, and the motivation for the writing is yours.) Writing what you love is writing about what inspires you and what you are passionate about (the content of what you are writing is something you love).
I want to speak to both parts of the author’s apparent argument: writing for yourself and being an amateur. However, I can’t tell you what the recipe for being commercially successful is, sadly. (As soon as I do I SWEAR I’ll tell you.) But I can speak to the importance of authenticity.
I want to state upfront, writing is a two way street. If you plan to sell your work, or indeed even have others read your work, then considering your audience is a must. That is why honing your craft and editing skills, and hiring a kick-ass editor are important steps – whether you self-publish or publish traditionally. It is also important to understand what is happening in the writing world and to know your genre. But, if you are going to write and write well, then you have to love what you write and you have to write for yourself. Let me count the reasons why:
One, write for yourself so that you establish your voice and see what you look like on the page before considering other people’s point of view. This work is not likely to be the work you publish but it will give you a sense of your natural style. Know what your raw product is before you allow other people’s expectations to start shoving you around.
“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
Two, you are your first audience. You will have crit partners and editors and finally an audience (hopefully). But you are your first audience. Take the time to learn what you like and how to satisfy that. It is good training.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
― Stephen King,
Three, authors tend to write what they want to read. Why? Well firstly, because it is what they know. It is usually the genre they are most well versed in. Secondly, BECAUSE THEY ENJOY IT.
Four, to quote a dear friend of mine: “If a whore orgasms, does that mean they shouldn’t get paid?” If I had a choice between two whores, one whore doing it purely for the cash, and the other whore doing it both for the cash and because they enjoy the work, I am going to hire the orgasm loving whore every single damn time. Why? BECAUSE I CAN TELL IF THEY ARE INTO IT!
“Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.”
― Virginia Woolf
“When you make music or write or create, it’s really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you’re writing about at the time. ”
― Lady Gaga
It is the same with any profession. Have you been to a bar where you can tell the barman enjoys chatting to people and trying out new cocktails? Have you ever worked with a truly creative accountant or mortgage broker who loves puzzles and games? They genuinely love to find the best deals and most inventive ways to make your money work for you. Have you ever been to a mechanic who loves cars and can talk your ear off about the make and model of your car and his pet project on the go? Have you ever seen the bored bookstore attendant sagging behind the counter but then as soon as they see you they shoot you a strained, polite smile you can see straight through? Have you then met the other bookshop attendant who runs up to you, spends an hour talking books with you and then suggests a book that might be a “bit out there but try it anyway because I think you might like it”, and you take home and then fall in love with? Can you imagine commissioning an artists and having them yawn all the way through? If you had the chance to ask Picasso to create an artwork for you, would you want something technically brilliant and perfectly fitting your specifications but feeling kinda… generic and soulless? Or, would you hand him the paintbrush and just say – GO FOR IT! Show me what you’ve got big boy. Just keep me in mind as you go, okay? I don’t know about you but I am the wild-card kinda girl—even if it means I risk disappointment now and again.
Authors are no fucking different to any other profession. I can tell when an author is writing for himself or herself, writing what they love AND has me, the reader, in mind. I can also generally tell when an author isn’t feeling the love for their work. I bet you can too. There are those in it for the money in every genre and every profession. Then there are those writers that take risks, fall down, get personal and make you FEEL. To quote another author at the same convention: “Writers are in the empathy trade. It is our job to make people feel.” How can we make readers feel if we don’t first feel what we write? Sure, crying over our own words isn’t enough to ensure our writing will inspire feelings in others. There is a whole lot of crafting and editing that goes into pulling emotions out of a reader. But knowing what makes us feel and putting that on the page is where it begins. We have to start with our own emotional beat. Our unique approach to feeling and thinking is our foremost gift as writers—use it. Sink in to feeling. Sink into enjoying that feeling. Put it on the page. Edit. Repeat.
Five, writing is hard. Fucking hard. It is lonely. It is a process plagued with self-doubt, setbacks and a lot of red ink and hard knocks. Bad reviews suck. Haters suck more. Also, most people don’t make money from writing. Indeed many lose money. How the hell is writing even sustainable for 99% of authors? Why the hell would you even write? I’ll tell you: YOU WRITE FOR YOU. YOU WRITE BECAUSE YOU LOVE WRITING. YOU WRITE BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO CHOICE. You write because if you didn’t lay those words down your muse would kick your arse so hard that you would end up in a broken heap somewhere over the other side of Saturn. Most writers write for themselves and love what they write. They love it HARD. They also love their audience. They love the meeting place of their words and your mind. But writing for themselves first and foremost and enjoying that process doesn’t make them any less professional, it makes what they do sustainable.
Six, WRITING IS THERAPY WHETHER YOU WANT IT TO BE OR NOT. Many writers, Anais Nin being one, state that writing helps them feel more alive in the world. Many writers say that writing is their way of coping with the world. With every book you read and every word you write (or any art work you make) YOU ARE LEARNING. You are learning about yourself and the world. As you learn you inevitable grow. Growing more often than not leads to profound insights. These insights often force you to push through your doubts and layers as a human being. These insights force you to step out of your skin, strip away your fears and self constructs and dig deep into your psyche and subconscious, and lay it all on the page to create something new, raw and real for your readers.
I stated earlier that writing is a conversation between the writer and the reader. You write down words for you. You write down words for them. Sometimes these words overlap. Sometimes they don’t. But as you write you are sorting your own shit out whether you like it or not. You are learning the art of story telling which helps you understand the world and yourself. The human mind understands the world and the self as a narrative. As you write you find answers to questions such as: Why am I doing this? Am I allowed to do this? What is this? Who am I? How do I communicate about my work and myself? Who do I wish to communicate this to? Who is my audience? Will my audience like me and/or my writing? Do I want them to like me and/or my writing? WHAT IS MY PURPOSE AND WHERE IS THE PIZZA? And you are sorting out all of this shit in public and in respect to another being—the audience. BOOM! THERAPY.
Note the word “public”. Being a writer is essentially about getting naked in public. Your psyche is on show, no matter how you dress it up. And when you get bad reviews or trolls you need to find a way to cope and to keep on going. BOOM – RESILIENCE.
This process becomes even more intense if you have good crit partners. And you know what? LET WRITING BE YOUR THERAPY! LET IT BE YOUR ART. LET IT BE YOUR MONEY. LET IT BE YOUR DOG, YOUR CAT, YOUR CAKE, YOUR HOUSE, YOUR WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT IT TO BE! There will never be enough art or artists in this world. Maybe your first book will suck? Maybe your tenth book will suck? Maybe all your books will rock? Maybe you will look back and think: “Yeah, I wrote that book more for myself than my readers.” Or, maybe you will look back and think: “Yeah, I completely bowed to public opinion with that last book.” Then maybe you will look towards the future and think: “Yeah, the next one will be more balanced between writing for myself and considering my readers.” THAT IS CALLED LEARNING AND EVOLVING AND HAVING INSIGHT AND SORTING SHIT OUT. THAT IS CALLED WRITING. THAT IS CALLED AN ACT OF THERAPEUTIC VALUE AND IT DOESN’T MAKE YOUR WRITING ANY LESS VALUABLE.
“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ”
― Joss Whedon
“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”
― Stephen King
Seven, write for you and write what you love because I am selfish. I don’t want to read the book you thought you should write. I don’t want to read the book you forced yourself to write or shaked-and-baked on to the page. I want to read the book you HAD to write. When I read your words I want to touch you, your soul, the divine, the essence of art—your art. I want to feel the joy in your words. I want to feel your passion, your fire, your pain, and your love. I want to read all the things and characters and places that couldn’t be, that wouldn’t exist UNLESS YOU WERE HERE AND BRAVE ENOUGH TO WRITE FOR YOURSELF AND WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE, AND THEN TAKE THE TIME TO CRAFT THOSE THINGS SO I CAN SHARE THEM WITH YOU. I don’t want to read the next J K Rowling, E L James, Neil Gaiman, Phil Rickman, Stephen King, Chuck Wendig, H P Lovecraft, Milan Kundera, William Faulkner etc. Those people already exist. I want to read you. I want new. I want novel. The clue is in the name – “novel,” fresh, new. When I pick up your book I want the sense that this book just HAD TO EXIST AND COULD BE NO OTHER WAY. I want the sense that the world is a little bit more complete with your book in it. I want to know you wrote this book for you. That you wrote what you loved. That you wrote because you had something to say. That you wrote what others couldn’t or wouldn’t. I want to know you then took the time and care to craft and edit that work so I could experience it.
If you feel joy while writing and can communicate your joy so that I can share it? BRING THAT SHIT ON.
The above call to arms doesn’t mean we don’t have days when we bash the keyboard repeatedly with our head because we just don’t feel the vibe, or because the words feel awkward, or because we ran out of coffee and the whiskey hasn’t kicked in yet etc. There are some days that writing does feel like a chore. There are days when we write purely out of discipline—fiction writers, non-fiction writers, journalists and people who journal all do this. But we wouldn’t be able to apply that discipline if love and joy didn’t spur us on in the first place. We couldn’t write if there wasn’t something in it for us. Why? Because if you plan to make your millions as a writer you may want to Google that plan first. I like to think of writing as a marriage. It has its ups and downs, but in knowing ourselves, and the commitment we made to the written word, we know we will find that loving, joyful inspired place again—but only if we show up. Only if the place we come from is love.
Eight, write for you, write what you enjoy because you can’t expect to predict the market. The ‘hit genres’ are less predictable than a fox on crack. I often talk authors out of genre hopping. Some authors consider swapping genres in the pursuit of money or fame. But this approach doesn’t work. By the time your book is out the fad is over. You may be able to put a new cover on your book and re-release it when the fad inevitably comes back around again. But that is just the point, fads come as quickly as they go. Write the book you want to write and if you need to put a new cover on it and re-release it when the fad comes back around again, do that as opposed to writing something you feel you should. That brings me to my next point.
“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
― Franz Kafka
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
― Stephen King,
Nine, Don’t write to get published or to make money. Don’t get me wrong, I believe authors should get paid just as much as the next occupation and it is a crime that so many good authors can’t make ends meet. I also believe working as a writer is a valid occupation and that it is important to research ways to make a living as a writer. There are many authors who are lucky enough to enjoy writing what the market is hungry for. But when you sit down at your computer don’t expect just because you write you will get published or make money. The harsh reality is that many don’t. But the world needs more art and more artists. As such, I want writing to be sustainable for you. I want you to keep going and keep creating. I don’t want anyone to talk you out of that. Realistically, for writing to be sustainable you have to be getting ‘something’ out of it. So write for you. Please.
Ten, Writing for yourself doesn’t mean you can’t have a career as an author. Writing for yourself also doesn’t mean you can’t write genre fiction, which demands certain conventions. As I have said above there is a time and place for writing for yourself in all areas of writing. Even if you have to sculpt your words to fit into a genre the words and passion need to start somewhere – that somewhere is with you. Take time to be indulgent and take time to learn your craft. The two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed writing for your self and writing for others enhance one another. Versatility is a gift.
Eleven, THAT PILE. You know what I am talking about. Maybe it’s a draw or a folder or a notebook full of story ideas. In that pile there are some gems. In that pile there are some ideas that are really popular right now. In that pile there are some stories you know your readers would just love. But guess what? You ain’t gonna get to write all of those stories, maybe not even half of them. Why? Because you have a limited amount of time on this earth and only so many hours in a day. Please, make sure you take the time to write for you and write what you love because one day you will die. Don’t leave those precious few gems of ideas that you loved – that you would have enjoyed writing, that may be completely different to anything that has gone before – go unwritten. Take the risk, even if writing these stories results in bad stories or books. It is okay to enjoy yourself from time to time. If you find yourself writing for others more and more, maybe think about allowing yourself an hour a day to write for you. Be selfish. And even when you write for you, you may still learn things that you can take back to your readers. Or maybe you’ll find what you write for you is something your readers want to read. How will you ever know if you don’t allow yourself the chance?
And that is part of my point here; I want to encourage you to take chances and not let people tell you how to write, not all the time. Yeah, yeah I have just ranted at you about what you should be doing. But don’t take my words as gospel rather see them as a means to shake any shackles loose that you might have about what you think writing HAS to be.
Twelve, I want more writers in the world. I want more art in general. I hate when people say what writing or art should or shouldn’t be or quarrel about titles. Just let there be art. Let people love what they do. Let people write for themselves. Heck, what if what you want to read doesn’t exist yet? What if YOU are the first of your genre but you never write it because it ‘feels’ self-indulgent. I AM DEMANDING YOU BE INDULGENT…sometimes. Give yourself permission to write for lots of different reasons and refill that creative well. If you don’t take time to write for yourself, you’ll die. You wont last. The world of writing can be a blast but it is often lonely and harsh. So, you better love your time alone with the page and what goes on to it because if you don’t then who will? Who will sustain you in those long hours if you cant stand back and look at your work and think “yes, it was just as important I write this for my readers as it was for myself.” Because here’s the rub, your book might never sell. If you don’t love what you do and enjoy it, if you don’t get a writing orgasm once in a while, then how will you keep writing?
“Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.”
― Meg Cabot
Science shows us that creating art, being in the process of flow calms us, centers us and lets us be more open to the world and each other. Art makes for a better world. Keep writing. Keep arting. No matter what anyone says. No matter what anyone does. No matter what it takes or how you do it. If you plan to publish, keep the audience in mind but don’t ever feel like you need to write for anyone other than you because like any relationship that works, if you cant love and enjoy yourself and your writing first, who else will?
So when you sit down to write, write for you, write what you love, but think of me, your audience, often. Be brave. Be tenacious. Work hard. Write down all those words that itch under your skin and pound behind your ribs. Write down all those words that are for you, and you alone. Write down all those words that make you uncertain or disturbed. Write down all those words that enchant you and make you fall in love. Then craft them so I can feel the same. Forget the expectations of society. Write for you. Write what you love. Craft and edit well. Editing and crafting is a must, but the seed of art, of writing, should be love, should be you.
“When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound. I really love language. I love it for wate it does for us, how it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and delicacies of our existence. And then it allows us to laugh, allows us to show wit. Real wit is shown in language. We need language.”
― Maya Angelou
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
― William Wordsworth
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. …this book…is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.
Drink and be filled up.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
“My pen beats faster as I write with my heart”
― Munia Khan
“The first draft of anything is shit.”
― Ernest Hemingway
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
“ I also know that not everyone will like what I do, and that there are many people who do love my work, and so I write for them, and for my own pleasure, and try not to brood too much over those who have different tastes. And I have written enough books now that I know the self-doubt and the anxiety are part of the creative process, and drive me to keep trying to do better, and keep me from becoming too cocksure about my writing, which is a form of creative death.”
― Kate Forsyth
“I want to make you laugh or cry when you read a story . . .or do both at the same time. I want your heart, in other words. If you want to learn something, go to school.”
― Stephen King
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
― Ernest Hemingway
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
― Toni Morrison
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
― Anaïs Nin
“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”
― Lloyd Alexander
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
― Robert Frost
“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”
― Stephen King
“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose…
…Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. – And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke