Rebels Without Applause

I’m going to say this again, and I’m going to alienate yet more people.  But, it is one of those things I think needs to be “aired out”.

I’ve just run across another writer who claims that “…I write for myself…”, and yet puts his work out for others to read.  AND he takes offense when someone finds the work weak, derivative or lacking in any way.

I actually think I’ve got it figured out now.  An “…I write for myself…” person  is hedging bets.  Making such a claim—it would appear—is a way to keep from committing your work fully.  You can always fall back and say, “I write for myself, not for you”, or “I write to please myself, not you.” 

If it is only for you, why do you put it up on a public forum

Make no mistake, there is absolutely nothing wrong with writing for yourself.  In fact, there is a name for it.   It is called Journal or Diary writing, and if it is truly for yourself, it should be kept that way.

I admit some people who say they write for themselves are competent writers, but I still don’t understand why, given their stand, they would post their work.

Maybe they’re missing the point.  Maybe I am.

The writers I know who have taken their craft public, and do not hedge their bets, are those who care about the reader.  They are writers for whom the reader is more than an unnamed person out in booksville.  For them the reader is actually like a character in the novel or story.  It is how they reach their audience.  It is how they involve the reader so deeply in the story that the reader forms the third leg of a the tripod of Imagination and skill: audience.

Go ahead.  Get your torches and pitchforks.  Call out the guard.  I can take it.

Do not claim to be a novelist and claim to write for yourself.  That is insincere and cowardly.  Instead, step up, ask for review, ask for a critique, and have the courage to face what people say.  It is, frankly, the only way I know to improve your work.

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11 responses to “Rebels Without Applause

  1. You tell it like it is, Rik.

  2. Hear, hear! You have shown the dividing line between the writer and a person who expresses themselves through writing. Can one person be both? Of course, most writers have a private journal and certainly, work that has never seen the light of scrutiny. But now everyone who expresses themselves through writing have the machochistic gene necessary to be a writer. Well put.

  3. Well. I’m going to take this personally, which is I think the best way to take it, because it could mean that you are not being self-deceptive in your analysis of why you are writing, and for whom. I think every person writes for themselves. I think self expression is a prime motivation in writing. So is, and I am laying it out here, ego satisfaction. Unless you really believe that people don’t have egos. But I think you can have it both ways as the saying goes. You can write for yourself and at the same time be writing for an audience. However, audiences vary and you may not at any time be reaching an audience that appreciates what you are attempting to do, nor, even if you are open to criticism, receive such criticism that is directed to the work and not the person. A writer may even release his soul to the public, but it is the writing, not the soul, (or the ego) that should be the subject of ‘literary’ criticism. Criticism should be directed to the word then, rather than the person, and in that limitation admit of aesthetic, logical and yes, even moral censure. There can be a fine line here. But if you don’t recognize it, then yes, I believe you cannot understand why an author can be a dualistic creature and write both for the self and for an audience. As Gustave Flaubert said: The writer writes in order to understand what he believe in. (Paraphrase here, – sorry I’m not accurate, don’t have it to hand.) So you are welcome, under this aegises, to read away on the chapters posted under poeticinteraction. The purpose of this work: as in ‘Blogging a Book’; (please see the blog for her advice which I took to heart) is to explore, precisely that, poetic interaction between people, with the chapters giving ‘meat’ for further and future analysis and comment. If you don’t want to self-analyse your past in public all well and good. If you don’t want to be that daring and that revealing, all well and good. But I’m giving it a go. And yes, it is primarily for myself that I am writing. I dare. Any takers are advised to begin at Chapter One, however, because self-analysis in this case, also involves the presentation of a philosophical thesis, and direction to the audience of what the writer is hoping to achieve through this analytic, and hopefully poetic writing. Thank you and have a good day.

    • LL ~ Your willingness to revise your work to improve its flow puts you in a different class than the writers Rik seems to be addressing here.

      You followed Rik’s advice perfectly: “Step up, ask for review, ask for a critique, and have the courage to face what people say.”

  4. We don’t entirely dissagree, Loreen. My comment–perhaps a bit lame in the expression–was directed at people who swear they write ONLY for themselves, then put their work out for… well, let’s face it, for adulation. My remarks are for the childish, for the dilettantes, the “tell me how good I am or shut up” tribe.
    My targets are those who use “I write for myself” as a shield against self-development.

    • Hi Richard. Just to affirm that I hopefully was speaking to the idea not the individual quirks and quarks of any particular writer, including myself. I will welcome all literary criticism. There will be much to be critical about, if we understand that it is through critique that we learn not only about ourselves, but about other people and about the world. I like what nrhatch says in this respect, and it is applicable I believe, that we can learn for ourselves, and about ourselves through the practice of teaching. I will add to this, the process of self examination, and striving for behavior that can be a model of what to do, and I have to add in my instance, of what not to do. In times past, it was the exemplary behavior that was emphasized, as if it was possible to be in a position where one no longer had anything to learn. So much said, so much done. Hope to post on weekends, so it’s going to be a slow self-examination. I’ll be working on Portals of Paradox through the week.
      Take care. Keep the posts of this kind coming. Provocative thought is a model of exemplary behavior in that it shows us that we are, all of us, subject to criticism – in our writing anyway, and what we hope to achieve through it.— grin grin.

  5. The only reason I’m holding this torch, Rik, is so people can see more clearly what you’ve written. I see what you’re describing as false modesty. Anyone who posts, and who calls themselves a writer, has got to be able to take a little heat. Even if one is only writing for oneself, wouldn’t one want to write well? (ugh, pardon while I un-dizzy myself; writing in the general “one” always makes me a little woozy in the head)

    I’ve got a pitchfork here that you can borrow to defend yourself, if you’d like. Not that you need help. That pen of yours is multi-pronged, and plenty poke-y (as opposed to pokey, which is just silly).

    Write on, my friend.

  6. I love the title of this, Rik.

    I enjoy the JOURNEY of writing. In that sense, I write for myself because it’s FUN. I’m not overly concerned with the rather elusive DESTINATION of print publication.

    Nevertheless, I enjoy sharing my thoughts and observations about life with those who are interested. In that sense, I write for an audience.

    So . . . before posting something in the blogosphere, I try to make sure that people won’t have to stumble around my misspelled words and misplaced punctuation in a futile attempt to decipher the meaning and intent behind my words.

    As I said in Our Field of Dreams: Whether or not something I write resonates with a given reader depends on the reader. If I write honestly, my intended audience will appear while those who are not intended to be in my pool of readers will drift away.

  7. I agree, wholeheartedly, nrhatch. Good post.

  8. Can’t we find some middle ground here? I don’t live in an “either/or” writing world. Why should I? I can write for myself, offer the result for public appraisal if I choose, and not go into a funk if someone doesn’t appreciate it. I like dragging thoughts out of the air, shoehorning them into language, and polishing the result. That’s why I’m a writer. I’m the primary audience and sometimes the only one. But I can also seek a wider audience in print or on-line. If I succeed, I get some satisfaction. (Rarely money.) If I fail, I can only hope that rejection goes beyond a form letter. Resent criticism? Bring it on! I recently got a detailed slap down for a piece of humorous flash fiction I submitted to an e-zine. I’ll assess the criticism, incorporate what I think is perceptive and useful, and ignore the rest. But at the core, whether we seek an audience or not, writers write first for their own satisfaction.

    • Would love to have Richard’s musings of why we do indeed ‘put it out there’. (Sharing, looking for criticism, part of the process of externalizing ourselves in order to reintegrate the material?) There must be countless reasons…..well! maybe you could count them- grin grin. I agree with you wholeheartedly, by the way. Some of my work maybe should be held back too, possibly! Writing can be a kinda scary thing!! But that would please Nietzsche! I like it that you are the one who chooses as a writer what to say and what to accept as critique.

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