Do I need to write for an audience?

"Show" by Roger Reuver at http://www.flickr.com/photos/reuver/

From “Show” by Roger Reuver at http://www.flickr.com/photos/reuver/

Sometimes I have a little extra time to write (like the night I am writing this – I’m sitting in what I’m sure is a storage container that’s been converted into a series of bedroom-like spaces, with no cell service and no Internet access) and I try to use that time effectively. I’ll write poetry, or fiction, or music, or, like tonight, rambling blog posts.

I just finished Redshirts by John Scalzi (narrated by Wil Wheaton), and it got me thinking again about my own fiction writing (if you haven’t read/listened to it yet, it’s worthy – four stars out of five, I’d say). I know writing Science Fiction is stupid difficult (you know, because you have to be accurate and stuff), and writing fantasy is pretty difficult (because you make up rules and have to stick to them and all of their ramifications). Those are the kinds of fiction I like to read, so my first ideas tend to be in those areas. I also like to read thriller/suspense/police procedural books, but having no real understanding of the details of life for characters in those stories I have so far shied away from those genres.

And so I got to thinking (as I have before): why do I want to write? List of possible reasons:

  • I want to create something, so why not a story/book?
  • I think I can do better (this is definitely true of some books I’ve read).
  • I’m inspired by great writing.
  • It’s fun to write.
  • I want people to read something I write and be impressed.

My worry is regarding the last item: is that my primary reason? If it is, that certainly would compel me to seek an audience.

My motivation for this particular piece is pretty straightforward: I’m trying to make sense of my thinking and my motivations. This might never be published (if you’re reading this, then I suppose I decided to), and at the moment it’s just for me. We’ll see.

But what about a piece of short fiction? Am I writing that for myself, or for you? What am I trying to prove?

There is a lot, lot, LOT of fiction out there to read. No one can keep up with reading it all, so it’s not like the writing world needs my work; it’s already basically saturated. I’m more than likely just adding to the noise. I think it’s valuable to write stuff because I think writing is good for me. But is it valuable to publish my writing for others to read? Do I need an audience for the work to be meaningful?

I’ve heard/read many times that students prefer to blog for an audience, that when their blogs are globally accessible it’s a much more meaningful writing experience for them. That certainly makes sense to me on the surface, so perhaps I’m having a similar experience. Are my words worth more to the world than they are to just me?

I don’t journal. I have lots of little books to write in; other people would fill these with musings and thoughts throughout their days, or perhaps spend some time writing as an exercise or as catharsis in the evening. Mine remain mostly empty. I have filled the first few pages of several, having good intentions but poor follow-through. The blogging is going a little better, and I think it’s because of the automatic, eternal audience; not only those folks who will read these words shortly after I’ve written them, but also those who might stumble across them years from now. I’ve written and posted this text, and now it won’t die. That doesn’t make it valuable, by itself, but that does make it persistent.

I’m not a novelist. I think I could write a novel, maybe even a good one, given enough desire, but I’m probably not going to. It’s November, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I once again have let it pass me by. I’ll write; I’ll write for the amorphous audience that is the Internet and I’ll write for myself. I don’t know whether I need the audience, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t hurt.

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8 thoughts on “Do I need to write for an audience?

  1. 1) Find out what you love reading more than anything else, and write that.
    2) Start small. If you decide that novel-writing is what you love and want to pursue writing, choose and plan a small project. The smaller the better, because it will take you five times longer than you guess, and it’s a major learning experience.

    Daniel

  2. Maybe it’s funny, but your first suggestion is really challenging: I don’t know what I like reading best. I love to read fantasy, but learning a new magic system is a lot of work for the reader. Lately I’ve been finding myself reluctant to start a new series/author because I’m not sure I want to commit the time to them. That’s when a short, present-day thriller seems to fit the bill.
    Okay, this is a rambling reply. I think I like fantasy best, once I get going.
    I [sort of] started small with a short story (a little over 5000 words) which was part of a larger narrative in my head. That was, as you say, a major learning experience. It might have scared me off larger projects, to some extent. I re-wrote part of the same episode from a first-person perspective and it went in a different direction from the original story.
    I have an idea for a new story which I have outlined very briefly for myself. Perhaps I’ll spend some more time planning it out, and then put virtual pen to virtual paper.
    Thanks for your comments, Daniel. I appreciate your perspective!

  3. The reason I write is because I just love to. Whether it’s a blog post, a comment, an email- I just love it! That being said, when writing a story, I am writing to create. I am writing to boost the god complex inside me and populate some fictional world with all my imaginary friends and have adventures to escape this world of doldrums and work. If you’re writing for others, well played, that is both rewarding and soul crushing, but if you write for yourself… you’re bound to impress others due to your passion. Good luck with the soul searching!

    • Hopefully the soul-crushing part isn’t necessary :)

      Thanks, TJ. I am definitely writing partly for myself, so perhaps it’s more a question of where I am on the continuum rather that of choosing one extreme. Thanks for your comments!

      • Oh soul crushing is absolutely necessary, after all… it weeds out the weak ones! But I suppose those moments can occur when dealing with the general masses. Some people love stuff, and some people detest stuff… such is life!

        If you’re writing for yourself, then you’re only as successful as you want to be. If you want to write everyday, then you win so long as you do it! It’s easy to have writing as a fulfilling hobby is you simply set goals and then meet them! Good luck Sir!

  4. I think it’s a testament to the fact that you’re thinking. If you’re not thinking, you don’t have anything to write about. Of course, the opposite is not necessarily true. The real advantage is that you’ve committed your thoughts to bits and bytes and will be able to retrieve them later on rather than relying on a memory. I say – keep writing. (and thinking!)

    • I find that writing stuff down (anything, really) is enjoyable and helpful. Often when I return to something I’ve written before I’m surprised by part of it: my former (now defunct) perspective, my wording, my naivete :)
      When I was practice teaching I had a veteran associate teacher who wrote a brief reflection each day, every day, about how the learning went in his class. He said he didn’t often refer back to those notes, but the writing forced the reflecting. I wonder what he thought and felt on those occasions when he did thumb back through the pages.
      I suppose this blog is a portfolio, of the kind we want our students to produce: collections of work (not just the best) which we later reflect upon. Putting it out in the public makes conversations and reflections like these possible, and there’s a lot of value in that.
      Thanks, Doug. Always great to hear from you.

  5. I agree with you, Brandon. Put it out there and let folks reply. It’s funny how you mention reflection – every lesson plan that I ever created had a section on the bottom I called thoughts and I would scribble ideas in there at the end of the day in case I ever got a chance to teach it again. It worked for me. I think we all need to find ways to improve whatever it is that we do.

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