Writing for Yourself v. Writing for Others

by Lucy Zhang, US East Blogger & Artwork Assistant jaBlog!

Artwork by Lucy Zhang


Writing for Yourself v. Writing for Others jaBlog!Do your write for the sake of writing or do you write for an audience?

If you asked me ten years ago why I wrote, I would have told you in a devastatingly naive and cute voice: “For myself.”

If you asked me four years ago why I wrote, I would have told you in a decisive voice: “To communicate; after all, the purpose of writing is to record and make the communication that goes on between people permanent.”

Today, I find it easy to conclude that writing can be a combination of both communication with others and a method of self expression. I write scientific papers and essays for the sake of reporting results and sharing the wealth of knowledge; I write poetry and fiction to appease my own creative side that occasionally likes to vent. However, splitting the purpose of writing down into black and white is unrealistic; these reasons are not always compatible with each other. In fact, writing for oneself can come into conflict with writing for the sake of others. There is no better example than J.D. Salinger’s experiences after writing The Catcher in the Rye. Once Salinger’s novel began to receive media attention, Salinger himself began to isolate himself and slowly adopt the lifestyle of a recluse.

Or at least, that’s how the Salinger story goes. Nevertheless, it’s a little difficult to grasp why anyone would want to write anything down if they did not intend on anyone reading it. If that was the case, would it not be easier to simply bottle everything up in your head? Every author, no matter how reclusive, still consciously or subconsciously wants their work read. Even Salinger stated in regard to The Catcher in the Rye: “My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book…it was a great relief telling people about it.”

Writing to relieve oneself of burdens––a function similar to that of a diary––seems plausible. It is also fairly logical to assume the publicity Salinger disliked was purely the negative type, especially relating to the unfavorable information that was released to the media concerning his lifestyle. Perhaps if the publicity did not impede his quest for enlightenment, it mattered little. And if he was as self-centred as those close to him claimed, the publicity most likely boosted his ego.

But before we write off Salinger as someone who simply wanted some time off on his own to write and embraced controlled amounts of positive publicity, Salinger’s views do present a valid point. In attempts to protect his privacy and sanctity of his work, Salinger emerged in several lawsuits. In many ways, the media, publicity, and market-oriented world drove Salinger to the point where he saw that the original content was at risk. Today, this issue is quite real. Certain books (typically those of the romance genre) make it to the top of sales lists while others simply sit aside, hoping for some attention. The truth is that romance is marketable and so more and more authors include it as either a major plot point or sub plot point that later develops into a major plot point.

The book industry is still an industry. Books themselves come in so many different forms and varieties that at face value, it does not make much sense as to why so many books compete with each other when there are so many genres and subject niches that rarely intersect. However, reality proves that even genres and subjects are at competition with each other for the larger audience. Should competition compromise the content and what the writer truly feels passionate about? To satisfy the public or satisfy the self?

The reality is that if you want to write to sell, you must keep the audience in mind. The whole purpose of writing is to communicate your story to others. On the other hand, if you simply want psychological relief or a place to vent, by all means vent through words. However, don’t expect those words to immediately become masterpieces that everyone would love to read. Like the words you speak to other people, the words you write for others need to be thought through.

If Salinger read over his novels and made revisions, there is no question that he meant for other people to read his works. Still, he preserved the core values of his novel without the intention of becoming a celebrity author. So, perhaps there are still compromises that can be made between writing for the self and writing for others. However, side too much with one of the extremes and there will be a conflict of interests.



One comment on “Writing for Yourself v. Writing for Others

  1. Sana

    I loved the way you articulated your thoughts in such an appealing and honest manner. I’ve often felt conflicted about the purpose of my writing but now it is clearer to me that there doesn’t have to be one reason. You don’t have to choose which purpose, you can do both. Just know which purpose you are writing towards at the time.
    Thank you for sharing your insights with the world. I really enjoyed reading this blog.
    – Sana

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