Perhaps one of the most-oft cited pieces of advice, “write for yourself” is surely a phrase you have heard before. Today, we’re going to look at why this phrase has been used so often and is so often repeated – there are many reasons!
For the record, this piece of advice is commonly given to new or aspiring writers. However, writing for yourself applies to both the new writer and the experienced writer, for the writer who just wants to finish a book and for the writer who wants to be an international bestseller. Every writer, essentially, has something to gain from what this advice has to offer.
What does it mean to write for yourself?
Writing for yourself means exactly that: thinking of yourself, first and foremost, as the reader – perhaps even the sole reader. Many writers liken writing for themselves to experiences they had in childhood, wherein they simply created stories for the sake of pure enjoyment of the story itself.
How does this help me and my writing career?
Writing for yourself gives you the freedom to write whatever you want, without the pressure of your backlist, an ongoing series, the current publishing marketing, or any other outside source of concern and consideration.
Without these outside sources taking up mental space in their already busy minds, writers often find that the writing process becomes more enjoyable, invigorating, and helps them stay motivated.
Writers who write for themselves in this way also often find they write more, write often, and write without the previous limits and rules they had previously set for themselves. This can help in regaining motivation, momentum, and give you the break you need from your work without actually losing any of your productivity, as many authors find what they write for themselves is just as valuable, marketable, and sustainable as the rest of their written works!
What do I do if I feel what I’ve written is too personal/niche/self-indulgent?
Honestly, there is no such thing! If you are, however, worried that the manuscript is too personal, take that concern with you to the editing stage and be sure to remove any content that you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with others.
Likewise, there is no such thing as something that is “too niche.” The variety of interests that people have is endless – we can all but guarantee that someone out there will be interested in your work, and was perhaps waiting for something like this the whole time.
How do I edit this manuscript if I wrote it only for myself?
Edit this manuscript as you would any other. If you work alone, be sure to pay keen attention to aspects that you wouldn’t want to share with others, and if you work with an editor, make sure to note that this manuscript started out as an exercise in writing for yourself. They can help you catch any areas of concern, such as parts of the story that would be difficult to readers to parse, information that is too personal or too close to your own life, and so on. It may be hard not to treat this kind of manuscript as more precious than others, but try not to let its personal nature keep you from publishing what is assuredly an amazing story!
Can I write for others close to me, rather than for myself?
Yes! Many writers have written books expressly for friends, family, and loved ones. Most recently, best-selling and beloved fantasy author Brandon Sanderson published the first of his Secret Projects, a book titled Tress of the Emerald Sea, that he initially wrote for his wife. Sanderson notes that this is “a different type of Brandon Sanderson story, one I wrote when there were no time constraints, no expectations, and no limits on my imagination.”
If you are not the type of writer who can get motivated solely by writing for yourself, reach out to someone you care about and ask what type of novel they would like to read – ideally one that they haven’t been able to find. You might be motivated by their passion for the stories that they haven’t yet seen or seen enough of, and find yourself ready to sit down and write something for them.
Giving yourself or others the gift of a great story is an amazing thing to do, so if this sounds like the right avenue for you and your writing, go for it!
What authors have successfully published books that were initially focused on their storytelling interests?
Lots! Too many to name here! Most, if not all authors, include some element of their own interests in their writing. It would be incredibly hard to write if they did not, so keep that in mind – there will always be something of yourself in your work.
For example, romance author and avid romance reader Adriana Herrera started writing so she could see more characters of colour in romance novels and focused on giving these characters what she calls “unapologetic happy endings.” Both of these aspects of her writing – the characters she creates, and the plot lines she weaves – were just as important to her as they were for her readers.
Similarly, fantasy romance author Meg Smitherman wrote the draft of her debut novel in only three weeks because she had a story she couldn’t stop thinking about, that contained a nerdy heroine and (perhaps?) villainous love interest she always wanted to see in writing. Her motivation for writing may have begun for herself, but she found that many others were, of course, interested in the same types of characters!
Have you ever written something just for yourself, or for a specific person? If not, give it a try – we promise it will be worthwhile. Happy writing from all of us at KWL!
My first book started as a writing project just for me. I had had the story idea for a long time, then spent time learning creative writing before writing the book. My ambition for the story grew over time until I published it. This book is still dear to my heart. It has a ‘mature’ woman amateur sleuth in a mystery suspense thriller that draws on political intrigue and high-level conspiracy, and a complex plot. The kinds of stories I like to read but aren’t common.