Is it Better to Write for Yourself or Others?

There is a divide I see in writing that I feel I recently came upon. It is more prominent in some cases, and less in others. The divide is: Is it better to write for your own enjoyment, or for that of the crowds? In this post, I am going to be talking about the upsides and the downsides of each.

Let’s start with writing for yourself. There are a lot of good things about this. You can really carry out your imagination and your ideas, and if you don’t publish it you don’t have too worry about making it look appealing to the crowds. . At the same time, if done well, you can perfectly display your imagination and carry out your ideas with publication . But this is hard. I am writing a fantasy novel right now, and I can tell you it takes a ton of time. You have to display your thoughts well, and shape them into a plot that teaches characters. You have to describe things in a way where the seen actually makes sense.

Redwall is a prime example of writing for yourself. It is about a land where instead of humans there are small mammals ruling (E.G. Squirrels, Mice, Rabbits, Moles) and there are 23 books about different legends of Redwall. It is my favorite novel series, though I am still reading them, and I think the Author does them perfectly. They are magical and intriguing, and his vivid descriptions of the world and of the creatures inhabiting it are amazing. Each one is unique with it’s own individuality, it’s own characters with their skills and flaws. He is never too lazy to just have the old characters star in his new book, but rather he creates new ones for every novel. This is a good case of writing for yourself because it quite obviously wasn’t just created because wanted to write something- It is its own category, something from an imagination or a dream.

Now I will go over what I feel is the other category: Righting for others. Your writing for others when you want to write something and so you just come up with a plot. The goal is not to carry out your own thoughts, but rather just to publish something and entertain others. At first this seems like it would always be good, but things sometimes go downhill. People start using cheap hooks to lure the reader into reading more; They try to make everything ultra-dramatic and nothing can just be deep or actually interesting. Of course, these books don’t have to go down this path. But I’ve read a lot that have.

I’m going to give an interesting example now: Harry Potter. I actually have a different view on this than most people. I think that her first 5 books were of the first kind: Writing for Herself. She had a vision in her head and carried it out. It was mysterious and magical, and made for a great set of books. But I feel the books after that she began to write just to appease the crowds, because people wanted more. She came up with super-complicated lore and intertwining backstories and everything got so complicated and confusing that it isn’t even fun for me even more. It started out as a magical children’s story, and ended in 760 pages of Avada Kedavra.

I have shamed writing for others in this paper, but it is not necessarily worse. A lot of the time it is more entertaining. I haven’t made my decision yet- this paper was mainly for the purpose of prompting thought in the reader.

10 thoughts on “Is it Better to Write for Yourself or Others?

  1. Great post! There’s a small typo in the fourth paragraph, first sentence: ‘Righting’ should be ‘Writing’.

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  2. Writing for others is better for me. If I’m writing to explain something, or to share something, then I take extra care to communicate what is most important. I want to make sure my reader understands. I don’t assume they can read my mind. If I write for me, it might be fun, wild, experimental, emotional. It’s not necessarily creative. Yes, it’s a creative act, but is it just for me to feel good about me? If I don’t share it, or if I share it, but that other person doesn’t derive any pleasure from it, it remains a small thing. I don’t know the Redwall books, but the way you describe them, they sound very much like writing for others by being true to yourself. This is what I aim for in my own writing.

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    1. Interesting! Though my view on Redwall is that he did start by writing for himself, and perhaps even for all of his books, but they are so awesome that it makes it seem like he wrote them just to appease you! But I think I have a sign of it being writing for himself. Almost all good books written for oneself include good descriptions, as if the writer has an idea in their head and is straining to get it out. Redwall has exactly that. As if the author is trying to show you something.

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      1. The way you’re describing “writing for yourself” sounds like being very close to your own creative process. Caring for it, almost like your writing is giving birth to another entity, that you tend and care for.

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  3. Depends on what you are writing about, isn’t it? Explanatory writing, personal essays, creative writing etc. are all written for different audiences. Plus writing a blog post is certainly different than writing fiction (either a short story, novel or a multi-volume saga). Even fiction, you are writing for an audience. You want to tell a story, most of the time. The telling part involves others, just by it’s nature. But I do agree with you, that if the storytelling becomes subservient to pleasing others, it can get hairy. And your example of the Harry Potter series is apt.

    Personal essays written to clarify things for yourself are better when written for yourself, I feel. In this I like Montaigne. He presents both sides of an argument to the best of his ability, and when he cannot make a decision, he invokes “epokhe”.

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  4. I know you’re talking here about writing stories – i.e., creative writing, but I think it would be interesting to think about this dichotomy in relation to other forms of writing too. Take for example academic writing. Let’s say you’re writing a paper to lay out a theory about something and to marshal evidence that you think supports (or maybe doesn’t support) your theory. Is this writing for yourself, or is this writing for the audience?

    Clearly, one of the things you’re doing in writing the paper is to report to your audience, so in that sense, you’re writing for them. Now I’ve done a fair amount of this sort of writing myself, and I know that usually, it’s only in the act of writing that I really work out what I have to say. So I’m writing for myself too.

    Your view on the Harry Potter series rings true. I wonder if this dynamic – a series starting out being personal and inventive, but ending as a formulaic effort to supply the demand – applies to other series too. Maybe even to Redwall! Are you far enough along with Redwall to see any shift like that?

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