Thursday, October 12

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, October 12, 2017 2 comments
I have to admit, I've been deeply skeptical of the advice to "write for yourself." Perhaps it's a byproduct of my upbringing, of being told again and again that the root of all kinds of evil is selfishness--greed, lust, hatred, coveting, the whole litany of deadly sins. Perhaps it's from interacting with beginning writers who are excessively prickly and hostile to any suggestion that their rough draft "baby" isn't a perfect masterpiece. I hear the phrase and think self-indulgent and even narcissistic.

What about readers? I'd wonder. Do you care about whether they can make any sense of your story? Do you want to pour months of time into something that will no one will want to read? 

The ironic thing is, spending too much time worrying about the questions above is more likely to hobble you than help.

And so will convincing yourself that you have unselfish motives. Because once you start worrying about motives, you're likely to get lost in a hall of mirrors, frantic to find a pure reflection. Could there be a more self-centered pursuit?

But reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic (or more accurately, about half of it so far) has got me rethinking my assumptions about what "write for yourself" really means.

Gilbert says that creativity is "your birthright as a human being, so do it with a cheerful heart.... Let inspiration lead you where it wants to lead you. Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn't make such a big freaking deal out of it. We make things because we like making things."

How's that for a pep talk with a good dose of kick-in-the-pants? :-)

Essentially, then, "writing for yourself" means engaging deeply with your ideas: follow them, invest labor and energy into them, shape them, feed them. Delight in the ideas and let their song move you to sing along and dance with abandon.

It means you can (and should) stop trying to be helpful--it's a masquerade for the deeply selfish need to be important, and the crippling need for permission and validation from others.

"Writing for yourself" is light and free and doesn't take itself so utterly seriously. If the idea leads down a blind alley, oh well. Part of the adventure! Look around, discover something unexpected. Backtrack if you must, or step through a side door. But when you "write for yourself," these glitches are not devastating disruptions of some Very Important Thing that will make you matter.

"Writing for yourself" comes from a healthy place of a right-sized self that can accept its own simultaneous greatness and smallness. It says "you are enough." Not the be-all-and-end-all, but not trash. Just enough.

Gilbert's book has been an interesting complement to Around the Writer's Block by Roseanne Bane, which I've blogged about HERE and HERE. Bane approaches creativity through brain science, and her main finding is that anxiety derails creativity; to be creatively productive, you need to relax and have fun.

In other words, stop looking over your shoulder, wondering how others will react, or seeking their go-ahead for your creative endeavors, or signs of their gratitude for your "help."

When your authentic self shows up and explores the ideas entrusted to you (Gilbert has some fascinating theories about how ideas find us), you become radically liberated from the impulses of selfishness--specifically self-preservation. The work done "for yourself" then flows and grows.

What do you think about "writing for yourself"?


  1. This feels like an email conversation I've been having with my critique partner. In fact, I'm off to share...