Written by JJ Barnes
If you’re writing commercial fiction, is it more important to write for yourself or your audience? Whether you’re choosing to write what makes you happy or to make your readers happy, you’re not necessarily doing the wrong thing. But there are arguments to support both approaches.
Write For Yourself Because Everybody Likes Different Things
One problem with trying to only write for your audience is that you don’t necessarily know exactly what your readers want. You can know trends and follow fashions, but you don’t know your readers as well as you know yourself. You’ll forever be chasing abstract perfection that can never be reached.
Within the audience you’re targeting are an infinite number of likes and dislikes. There are so many variations on feelings and thoughts amongst readers. You cannot accomplish the perfect story that accommodates all of those opinions. Even if you’re tailoring a story perfectly to follow the popular trends within a specific genre, you can never please everybody.
If you choose to write for others not yourself, then you might find you’re censoring yourself. You’re cutting lines or scenes that you really enjoy because you theorise they won’t be popular among others. And if you stop enjoying your own writing to satisfy a hypothetical, is there any point writing?
Reasons To Write For Your Audience, Not Just Write For Yourself
However, if you’re specifically writing for people, you want to show your readers that you appreciate the effort they put in by reading your work. You aren’t writing as a hobby. You’re writing to make others happy so if you’re self indulgent and only think of yourself, you’re factoring out a large part of why you write.
When you’re writing a book designed to be enjoyed by others, you push yourself. You challenge yourself in a different way. You work to include things such as Narrative Triplets, foreshadowing, and set up and pay off. Things which are tricky and are specifically designed to make that story pleasurable to read by others.
Including these clever writing techniques that make your story more satisfying and entertaining isn’t easy. If you’re only writing for yourself, and you know the story, the characters, and where it’s going, there wouldn’t necessarily be any point in going to that effort. When you’re writing to be enjoyed, you push yourself to not be repetitive. Not to use too many tropes, or to be derivative of others.
Push Yourself To Do The Best Writing You Can Even If You Just Write For Yourself
You might not necessarily lower the quality of your writing if you’re writing just for yourself, because the craft of the story is the joy. Finding ways to include clever story craft techniques can be immensely satisfying just for yourself. But there isn’t the same pressure or requirement on you to make that effort if you don’t want to bother.
If you’re practicing, and not expecting anyone to actually read this particular story but you want to improve your art until the point you can start to move into professional writing, my advice would be to write as if it’s going to sell. Push yourself to include all these techniques as best as you can, and work on your craft as if it’s to be read.
Know Your Genre
I wrote for myself for many years before I moved into writing professionally, and I always loved writing. But writing for yourself can be a passion project without it mattering what is required from a commercial book. You can write tropes that have been overdone and don’t sell. Or you can include scenes that are outside your chosen genre without it mattering. You could include sex scenes in a fantasy, or graphic violence in a comedy, without mind for whether that would sell.
I wrote before about the importance of knowing your genre, and marketing your work to that genre. But when you’re writing just for yourself that really doesn’t matter.
Find The Right Balance
I do personally feel like I put a lot of my thoughts and energy into writing for my audience. I push myself to do the best work I possibly can because it’s my job, and I treat it like my job.
However, I do also consider writing for myself to be an important part of my process. For instance, if there was a really popular trend for graphic violence and sexual abuse against women, I wouldn’t write it. I’ve written violence in my stories. In Emerald Wren And The Coven Of Seven a man burns women to death, but that’s my limit. I don’t focus on the actual burning because I personally have no taste for it. The act itself, fine, because I wanted to write evil being done and make sure my Protagonists were appropriately motivated to stop him.
I wouldn’t ever want to focus on graphic pain and gruesome violence. And writing sexual abuse scenes will always turn my stomach. I don’t like reading them, watching them, or writing them. So even if I was told I’d sell millions of copies of my books if I throw some of that in, I couldn’t do it. Because I do still write for myself and I’m not selling my soul here. I’m writing stories.
Find The Right Audience
Finding an audience that enjoys your style of writing is more important than writing for an audience who want things that you don’t like writing. Once you’ve found that audience, do the best work you can for them. Make all the effort they deserve to receive. But don’t feel pressured into writing things that make you feel uncomfortable or unhappy for any reason.
I write for my audience, because if I don’t have an audience, I don’t have a career. I love my job and I want to be able to support my family with the effort I put into my job. Most importantly, I respect that what I’m doing is my job.
I respect my audience and want to make them happy. I want to put the time and the effort and the energy into writing stories that are worthy of their time. But I wouldn’t write things that I don’t like, or that have an emotional or mental health toll on me. I find a balance that I’m comfortable with. I love my stories, they make me happy, but I write them to make my audience happy too.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose