The Great Writing Conundrum: Who Is It All For?
The big contradiction in all Internet writing advice
Writing is an arcane and mysterious art, with no fast single path to success beyond “Try to follow grammar rules and make sure to write all the time.”
As a result of its layers of ambiguity and anything-can-fill-this-page possibility, it’s also one of the most prolific producers of self-help articles that try and teach you to navigate the endless forest of crafting your own words.
Does any of the following sound familiar?
Write for yourself. If you don’t enjoy your writing, it’s very hard for it to be good. Don’t play to the crowd. March to your own drum.
But also, if your writing is too personal, then it’ll have a hard time finding an audience because they won’t relate to it. Why are you doing this if not for an audience? You need to write things that other people actually enjoy, and then further cultivate that success. Be selfless. The audience is the reason for writing.
But it’s also okay if you only reach one person as long as you impacted that person in some way, and enjoyed creating the work…
This goes on and on. And on. There’s hundreds of articles out there that firmly plant their flag in one side or other of this grand debate.
What’s the true answer then? Is writing for the author, or for the audience?
The answer, for me, is both.
It’s completely true that if you don’t like what you’re writing about, it’ll be a total slog. Even contract writing jobs require a certain amount of personal emotional investment…unless you want to tear your hair out.
But there’s a fine line between not liking your topic and not liking your execution. It takes a lot of experience to be able to see that difference quickly.
That experience is enhanced by good audience reactions. Are your comment sections reacting to the quality of the piece, or the content? If it’s the content, you know you engendered some type of true emotional reaction, and that you’re probably on the right track as far as the mechanics of putting words together.
The better the writing, the more intense the reactions it will inspire…both positive and negative.
I’ve said before that unpublished, unseen writing might as well not exist.
I still believe that. But I don’t think that writing should just be an endless chase for bigger numbers.
Computers chase numbers, humans chase expression.
It’s so tempting to stand firmly on one side of this debate or the other, because then it would give me some focus to craft advice around. That hints at the actual challenge of writing: personal focus.
Writing is an infinite possibility space.
You start going, and literally any words can come out. It is at once both a hyper- emotional and hyper- logical experience.
Your words might be a sonnet, or a game review, or a romance novel. Or they might be total gibberish. They might be in any of a hundred different languages.
That’s the hard part of writing that no self-help article can help you overcome: With endless possibility comes endless chances for failure or success.
It’s easy to read an article that says it has all the answers, feel good about it, and move on with your work…but inevitably you’ll come back for more.
You have to drive your own focus.
I tell myself that writing is simply about sharing something personal and interesting with a wider group that will also hopefully like it. That helps me put aside concerns about who exactly it’s for or if it’s going to be too weird or too “me.”
Writing should be weird and intimate and unique. But it also needs an audience to truly sing. So write what you want, but format it as if others will see it also.
Open a small, crafted window into your personal brain.