Saturday, 31 March 2012

Me! Me! Me!

Chuck Wendig is a much better-known dude than I am, so I'm going to assume you've read this post by him already (and if you haven't, go read it, because it's very good, as are most if not all of his list-of 25 posts).

I'm a bit nervous about doing this, because I'm pretty sure Chuck could demolish me in a real fight, never mind in any bloggery-related disagreement, but I take issue with one of the entries on the above-linked list. It's this one:

'9. "I write only for me!"
Then don’t write. Sorry to be a hard-ass (ha ha, of course I’m not), but writing is an act of communicating. It’s an argument. It’s a conversation. (And yes, it’s entertainment.) And that necessitates at least one other person on the other end of this metaphorical phone call. You want to do something for yourself, eat a cheeseburger, buy an air conditioner, take a nap. Telling stories is an act we perform for others.'

I'm  not taking issue with the idea that principles of communication and a communicative attitude are good things for a writer to cultivate if he/she wants to succeed, either critically or commercially. Nor am I misinterpreting Chuck as saying something mercenary, suggesting that as writers we should think primarily of audiences rather than our own voices or inspirations.

What I take issue with is the idea that you shouldn't write for yourself. In a sense, the only change I want to what Chuck's saying is that it should be 'If you are writing only for yourself, you have no business showing what you write to anyone else.' As a crude example, for years I kept a journal/diary of primarily philosophical musings on my own life. It was a way not merely of analysing the story of my life but of telling it to myself, creating a narrative that helped me understand things I went through. Not that I went through very much that was particularly drastic, but everything seems more complicated when it happens to you.

It sounds silly to talk about 'communicating with yourself'. All sorts of 'hippy' and 'new age'. But that's exactly what I was doing, and guess what? The message came through much clearer for the fact that it was written down and I could go back and look it over (several later entries in the journal were directly and overtly analyses of previous entries and what they told me about myself).

It's beginning, I know, to sound like I chose this topic because it gave me lots of opportunities to talk about myself. And I'd be fooling no-one if I pretended I don't love talking about myself, so here are a couple more examples (my defence being that I am the only person I can directly experience self-communication with, of course ;D).

I'm assuming Chuck would agree with me that music is at least as communicative as writing. Communicative in a different way - communicative of feelings, or atmospheres, or emotions or something of that ilk - but no less powerfully or importantly so for the distinction. And yet, when I play my piano, I go to significant lengths to avoid other people hearing. Partly because few things are more annoying to most people than hearing the same set of tunes over and over again, day in and day out, but mostly because I'm playing for the sake of my own experience. I'm playing because I like how it feels to play, because I like how the music makes me feel, and because I like the sense of creation that comes with the link between the two. Again, I'm communicating with myself.

On to the example that probably explains why Chuck's point put my back up high enough to get me blogging again. I pretty much did write my first full novel, 'Bad Romance', for myself. At the very least, I went into the project believing it had a target audience of perhaps one other person, that person being someone deeply unlikely to ever read it.

Since you are almost certainly not that person, here's a plot summary of the novel; Joe is a media student and music blogger in the northern UK. After seeing a music video by enigmatic, quirky pop singer Mielle (based not-too-loosely on Lady Gaga), a couple of coincidences lead Joe into an unlikely obsession with her. He decides he wants to find out who the real person behind the public persona is, and that the best way to establish a line of communication with her is to join her internet fan community and attempt to seduce her. However, since Mielle is apparently a lesbian, Joe pretends to be a woman online. Over the course of the story, Joe's participation in the community leads to the creation of a new theory of aesthetics and a new understanding of Mielle's art, credited to Joe's online persona. He becomes something of a celebrity before being 'outed' as a man.

I'll stop short of spoiling the ending. Either way, you get the point. Add to the bizarre and implausible plot the fact that large chunks of the story are told through emails, blog posts, forum discussions and tweets, and you have a book only a mother (me, in this case, though that metaphor only adds a further level of gender confusion to the picture) could love. Writing 'Bad Romance' allowed me to pick apart, and thus better understand, my fascination with Lady Gaga's work, as a combination of music, video, performance art and celebrity satire.

The only other person I can imagine being interested in the book would be Lady Gaga herself, and only then because it would take megastar levels of narcissism to be able to wade through the convoluted prose and stylistic variation. The likelihood of me being able to put a copy of it in front of her being slim to nil, I have to think of 'Bad Romance' as a book I wrote purely for myself.

So, Mr. Wendig, what have I done wrong? I don't consider the time wasted (if nothing else, I learned an enormous amount about my own writing voice, and about actually finishing a novel). If Chuck's right, then there's something in some way bad about what I've done, but I'm damned if I can see it.


  1. Excellent post. I agree that what Chuck wrote is a bit extreme. I know what he's saying ... If you want to be a published author, you can't just write *only* for yourself forever. I would go so far as to say that most of the time, I write the first drafts of my novels almost entirely for myself. If I get caught up in thinking about how others will read it, what they will and won't like about it, then I might scare myself into stopping. After the first draft is done, that's when I think it's safe to start worrying about what others will think. But thinking about communication the entire time will probably mess you up.

    Then there are the things probably no one will ever see but you. For example, I write a lot of journal entries or just long rants about things I'm angry/worried about, and as far as I'm concerned no one is ever going to see that stuff. But writing such things definitely isn't a waste of time. Even if you're just writing for yourself, you're still writing. You're still learning how to use words, how to express emotions, etc. As I was saying before––if you're intent on getting published, you can't avoid writing/editing for other people. But writing just for yourself once in a while is by no means a bad thing.

    So yeah ... Basically this long rant was just to say that I agree with you. ;)

  2. Thanks for commenting! If Chuck comes after me with hammers, I reserve the right to use you as a human shield ;)