I’ve always had a weird relationship with writing. For one thing, it’s never been a chore to me. Sure, there are times I don’t feel like doing it, but for the most part, it’s never felt like something I had to do. It was just something I did. I feel compelled to write. If I go too long without it, I get antsy. Stir-crazy. Like Sherlock Holmes when he doesn’t have a case to solve. (Except I don’t do cocaine when I’m bored.)
Sometimes (on very good days) I even feel pretentious enough to apply these lines from Hamilton to myself: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time? / Why do you write like you need it to survive?”
God, is that a good song.
Anyways, why do I bring this up? Because the irony of the matter is, about 90% of the things I’ve written over the years will probably never see the light of day. No one will ever read them. And not because they’re saucy–mostly, because they’re not very good.
And yet I write.
That got me thinking, Why? Why do I continue? Why have I always continued?
Of course, just like any other Writer With a Dream (TM), I’d love to get published. I’d love my work to be read and enjoyed by others. Then I would know for certain that all those unfinished drafts sitting in storage (both physical and digital) did not die in vain.
But that’s not why I write, I realized. I am fairly certain that if I were never to get published, ever, I still wouldn’t stop writing.
Why? Because above everything else, I write for myself.
In the digital media marketing business (and just business in general, I bet), we have this thing called a client avatar. This is a representation of the type of person you’re trying to market to. You usually pick an age, a gender, an income bracket, maybe a few interests, and even give them a name. And then you think about what that person wants, what their goals are, and what they’re looking for in a product or service–ahem, your product or service.
Oftentimes, an entrepreneur will admit that their client avatar is themselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that–after all, who knows you better than, well, you? Most importantly, you will do better at marketing a product that you’re passionate about, that you would buy if you were in the consumer’s shoes. After all, why would you start a business for something that you yourself didn’t love?
It’s the same, I would say, with writing. Sometimes you hear people talk about coming up with your “ideal reader,” or “intended audience,” if you prefer. Who do you want reading your book? Who do you see being interested in it? Generally, you write to them, as opposed to, say, your mother or your minister. It’s not a bad exercise.
As you may surmise, this also means that your ideal reader can be yourself. In fact, it should be. As Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book you want to read, but haven’t seen it written yet, then you must write it.”
You are allowed to write for yourself. And as I was thinking the other day about who my ideal reader might be, I realized, it’s me. I am my own ideal reader. And I think I always have been. Whenever I’d try to come up with an avatar, it seemed cloudy, a mixture of my family members and all the peers who’d ever judged me–which was not a very reassuring combination.
And then I faced up to a very obvious fact: No one loves my writing more than I do. Not that I don’t recognize when it sucks–I am also my own greatest critic–but I love reading my own writing, even for the purposes of editing. I thought that made me narcissistic. Maybe, but mostly, it makes me a writer who writes for herself.
Call it therapeutic, call it a creative outlet, call it an escape–call it whatever you want. All I know is that I show up to the page for myself, because I want to see what comes next. Even if it sucks. Even if I trash it the next day.
When you write for yourself, you don’t worry about what people will think about your writing. All you care about is finding a little joy in the craft. You write the story you want to hear, with characters you want to be invested in.
Listen, the fact is, you can’t make people care about your writing as much as you do. There’s no guarantee they’ll ever read it. (Though getting it out there is never a bad idea.) But if you write for yourself–become your own reader avatar–then you’re more likely to infuse it with so much passion and heart that those who read it will have to care.
So reserve a table for one. Bring your laptop, your notebook, whatever. Order your favorite beverage and a nice dessert. And have a good time.