There is this nebulae of phantasmagorical opinion (God, where did this vocabulary come from?) about the absolute (I mean, I swear, some phrases that come to my mind baffle even me)...absolute what? Oh, yeah, we were talking about the abyss. So, there is this opinion floating in the vast recesses of writers' minds (I must be on a roll today) that whatever genius prose exhibiting strong literary merit and strong calves (can prose have strong calves?) they produce (today I'm exercising in long sentences) shall be and must be and deserves to be read. Let me repeat it, because I'm sure I have lost you by now. Writers think (see, simple words) that what they write must be read. Or they hope. Or they set out to write with that soul-cleaving wish that whatever they produce will have hordes of readers running to them and begging them for their masterpieces. Can I laugh here, or should I laugh later? You still with me? Well then.
Yesterday we had a curious discussion on Twitter about whether or not it matters if anyone reads your work. There was a wide breadth of viewpoints, and, interestingly enough, those who have written a lot tended to not clamor for readership, but those who were starting out often shouted that, Yes, readers matter. There was a third, bitter category of older disgruntled writers who said that, How the fuck would they pay their bills if they had no readers? I thought, Hmmm, this deserves a blog post.
This will shock you.
Readers don't matter.
They do matter, and they don't. They matter in terms of being the amazing people who read books. All writers are readers themselves, for God's sake. I mean, however, the other side of the coin (that is, if you're not quietly stealing away at this point to get some moldy tomatoes to throw at me). For a writer when writing, readers shouldn't matter. And again, let me step aside and clarify, because I can see you opening the gates of Hell for me. It all depends on the work. If you're a journalist, or a non-fiction writer who is working on something very specific for a very specific audience, then, yes, of course you have to think about the people you're writing this for. However, fiction is a completely different deal.
When writing fiction you write for YOU.
There should be only one person in your mind, period. Maybe it's not you, but your beloved one with whom you want to share your love and pain, like writing a letter. Great. Do that. If, however, you decide to please the masses, here is what will happen.
You will please no one.
The ineluctable reaction of people will infuriate you and drive you to try ramming your book down their throats. Save your breath. Don't do it.
Write for yourself.
The nearly impossible hurdle for all beginning writers to overcome is this fear of writing for pleasure, THE WAY YOU WANT TO WRITE (not the way someone told you to). You all know what I'm talking about, so don't pretend and don't avert your eyes. I had this fear too. Fuck, I still have it, but I've also learned to trust myself and to tell my fear to shut up. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't. It's a daily battle.
If you write with the hopes of being read, you will make yourself distracted from your writing.
Write with the mindset that nobody will read what you wrote. NOBODY. Scary, isn't it? Yet try. Right now. Yes. Pick up your pen or close this browser window with this silly blog post of mine and start writing a story for yourself. Go crazy. Abandon your stomach aches and eye twitches and total-self-doubt syndrome shakes.
LET GO OF YOUR MENTAL ANGUISH.
I AM THE OVERLORD OF WRITING GODS AND I COMMAND YOU.
There. Feel better? I free you from your terror. I dare you. Write a little flash fiction piece. Anything. And all the time while writing, think that not a single soul in the world will read it. Not your grandmother, not your uncle, not Johnny Funkel who used to torture you in 3rd grade behind the school trash bins and now is a successful realtor with not much brains but a huge shiny car and an even bigger beer belly. You are free. Free to create anything you want and no one will tell you that you suck. Because nobody will see what you wrote.
Write for pleasure.
Here is the curious thing that will happen, once you do. Are you ready for this?
If you abandon all hope of being read and truly write to entertain yourself, people will actually want to read it. You know why? Because it will be honest, and we readers can smell false pretense a mile away. It won't be perfect, that's not the goal of it. It will be true to you, to who you are. Do you have many friends who'd like to get to know you better? Great. Same with your writing. It's like a projection of your inner self on paper. People will want to get to know you more.
Now, if you're grumpy and tend to push people away, same thing might happen with your writing. Do you want to be friends with someone who is highly unpleasant? Probably not. Why would you want to read someone's writing if you can sense that whoever wrote it was quite dissatisfied with life and his calves (here we go, calves again) and her hair and his punches and her manicured nails and...I don't need to keep going.
Take a look at bestselling books. What do they have in common? (Well, most of them, anyway.)
They ooze love.
No matter the genre, there is so much love trickling out from between the pages, you want to soak in it. This is what we all want, this is what we clamor for. So when you write for yourself, if you love yourself, it will show. People will want it. If you hate yourself (and your writing), people will reject it. This is the simple truth.
When I wrote my 1st book, I hated myself and was learning to love myself. In fact, writing my 1st trilogy was the process of learning how to love myself. I think it's one of the reasons people read it, and one of the reasons many people have trouble reading it. Rosehead I wrote for fun, without a care in the world, and this is what readers tell me. They have fun reading it. Now Irkadura...was painful for me, but there is lots of love there too. We shall see what happens with it.
I need to shut up now to let you go write. Do that. And you get a slice of Kantian sublime for reading this far. XOXO