Who Are You Writing For?

June 28, 2014

“My readers would welcome whatever life style I chose, as long as I made sure each new work was an improvement over the last.” – Haruki Murakami

Known to turn down parties, important engagements and even own family gatherings, Haruki Murakami’s steadfast dedication to his writing schedule, a five to six hour stint beginning at 4am, borders on that of the extreme hermit. Sacrifice for the sake of the reader. That’s the name of the game.

The great Japanese novelist and myself are pretty far apart of course. Not just in terms of quality and output but also in our attitude to our readership. Whereas Murakami toils and sweats to make each of his stories more resounding than the next. I, on the other hand, write principally for myself.

Sure, so the platforms are different — I’m not kidding myself pretending to be a novelist with millions of readers anticipating my next hit.  But isn’t ‘writing’ writing all the same? And something as crude and arguably ego-centric as publishing ones own meandering thoughts on a self-titled blog surely still qualifies.

Like structuring a novel, our blogs still require a certain amount of thought and organisation. We sit down to the work, invest time in words, spend a little time formatting. It’s not too dissimilar.

So what’s this neat little caveat, that ‘I write for myself’, really all about? Surely the very act of hitting publish eradicates any chance of that being true?

This is the question I came upon while reading Karol Gadja’s blog a couple of days ago. Reading his popular article The Game, Sex, Pickup, Social Skydiving, one particular line in the post, the matter that Karol writes for himself, particularly stuck in my mind.

I write for myself, but I’m thrilled when others get something out of it and I appreciate your following along. – Karol Gadja

It wasn’t until I came across the Murakami quote above, however, that I began to think more about the idea. What role does the audience play to that of a blogger? And does a blogger actually owe them anything?

First things first; I really like the way Karol writes as well as the things he discusses on his blog. His willingness to talk openly and honestly about many facets of life is an approach one can only really respect.

That said, I do find it really hard to believe that Karol (or myself for that matter) writes purely for himself. Someone who’s been publishing as long as he has must surely get more out of it? And even if that that were true then why would he continue to put anything into the public realm at all?

Understandably I’m taking things way too much at face value. But Karol’s and my own case as least got me thinking. Is it possible for any writer to write solely for themselves? And is the blogger an exceptional case?

Having played being a writer in various guises (magazine journalist, blogger, co-author etc.), it’s a question I find interesting. When I think back across each of those roles, about the act of contributing to all those things, what was the dynamic at play? Was I writing mainly for myself? Or was I writing, as appears to be the case for Murakami, always with the reader in mind?

Perhaps I should unlatch myself from answering. Let’s look at peers of mine and the blogs they write that I enjoy. Put us all together as a collective and you might say our motivations are roughly the same. At the centre of our platforms sits our personality, or, at least, the extension of a personality we’d like you all to see.

Dig a little deeper than that though, and is there much consideration for the audience other than acting to share, inform and entertain? Isn’t it the case that all blogs start with some kind of narcissistic underpinning where we all believe we have great things to say and that everybody else should listen? That it’s mainly about ‘us’, rather than ever being about ‘you’?

The dynamic, the fact that we’re single entities pushing things out to anyone who wishes to find us, makes this premise pretty difficult to ignore. Couple that with the fact that most of us don’t go through an editorial process and it’s perhaps even more so. If we’re not told about the places in our work where we’ve become too self-indulgent or overly descriptive about affairs that nobody could give the faintest crap about, then surely we’ve ignored any call of duty we might have toward the reader?

Maybe this is why blogs still lag behind books in terms of prestige. Given that the book has now become the modern day business card, it’s hardly surprising the amount of credibility editing gives to writing.

But what is editing other than other people reading and critiquing your own work? It’s pretty much the same thing as having an audience. Which kind of shows that the proof is in the pudding. That writing for oneself is inherently stupid. Especially if your aim is to grow and improve at the craft.

Yet for those of us who continue to blog and claim to be doing it for ‘ourselves’, it’s all still very tempting. Despite the rationalisation, that we would certainly improve by adopting the position of always writing for others, we still find ourselves resisting. Still find ourselves shying away from coming out and telling you, frankly, that underneath the bravado and false courage, it’s all about you.

What I think this boils down to in cases like my own (and possibly Karol’s) is fear.

When we say to ourselves that we write only for our own gratification and amusement, we’re adding a nice little reserve clause.

Suddenly the whole thing becomes an issue of ownership. And where we’ve constructed a protective shield that guards us from any level of criticism by effectively saying; ‘well it’s not for you, it’s only for myself’, that’s where we find a way to continue.

This becomes doubly important if we acknowledge that our blogs are nothing but rambling indulgence. And that, despite our best efforts, there’s very little real value in what it is we’re producing.

This kind of honesty, or at least an awareness of what’s really happening, is imperative, in my opinion, for any writer hoping to use this addendum.

Yet there’s one important fact I might have overlooked here. The fact that a mechanism like this is hugely favourable in aiding creativity.

Many people, myself included, wouldn’t create at all if they dwelled too much on the possibility of what they ‘owe’ an audience. Given the fact that a group of readers can be a pretty discerning and brutal bunch too, sometimes the only way to get into writing at all is to simply pretend they’re either A) not there or B) that you don’t care that they’re there.

So when you see a writer saying they write for themselves then, recognise that that’s not really the case. What’s actually happening is distance. The writer separating themselves from the responsibility of caring too much. Which in turn prevents them from falling into the trap of not being able to create at all.

Turning back to Murakami’s approach, you can see the difference that years of mastery brings. Murakami doesn’t need to use a trick like this. He already moved past it years and years ago.

Recognising that the reader is, in many ways, way more important than the writer, is what allows people as successful as Murakami to really get to work.

That’s the difference between a genius novelist and a blogger like myself. Instead of getting caught in the emotional trenches of being too fearful or too attached to the work, they simply rise above and own it.

Separate yourself from that and it’ll really free your mind.

Consider this my effort.