Writing for Yourself Or Your Readers

This week on Hide and Create, Debbie Viguie, Jordan Ellinger, Michael Sullivan, and Joshua Essoe talk about just who you’re writing your great [insert country here] novel for.

I really like the thought: “Write for yourself and edit for your reader.” This ties in a little to Writing for Love or Money: if you want your book to reach the widest audience–and really who doesn’t want that?–I think writers need to realize that the book they’re writing isn’t theirs at all. It’s their readers’.

Frankly, I think this is quite a liberating thought.

So after you write your heart out, and after you’ve written the book that you wanted to write, take out your red pen and start cutting.

1. Take out all the unnecessary, and excessive detail–whether that be on your favorite setting or the full explanation of exactly how that crushed-almond paper is milled. Most readers are not going to care about those details the way that you do.

2. Tighten or cut the pages of dialogue or exposition as the narrator or the characters explain the plot to readers or to each other. Even if you’ve got great dialogue, show this, don’t info dump it.

3. Revise sentences with twenty-eight words that could be told in eight.

4. Unless it’s the style and voice you’re banking on — for example, if you’re writing an autobiography, a memoir, or perhaps a travel journal — remove yourself from your writing as much as possible. What I mean by that, is leave the story and text as open as possible for your readers to fill it with themselves rather than feel like that space has already been taken by you.

Who knows, maybe someday all that luscious prose can go into an author’s-cut special edition, and you can revel in all that you removed that you loved so much as an homage to you – but until then, let your readers revel in your story for themselves.

6 thoughts on “Writing for Yourself Or Your Readers

  1. Another excellent show. Thanks!
    Michael J Sullivan mentioned that he wrote a few books, but his career only took off when he finally wrote for himself (or his daughter). If he doesn’t mind sharing, I’m interested to know why they didn’t take off, and why he didn’t try self publishing, like he did with the Riyria books?
    I.e. In retrospect can he see any problems with them, or are they good books, but they just didn’t appeal to any publishers/agents at the time. Will he ever publish them/ rework them now that he has some traction in the market?

  2. As with most things, there are several reasons. First and foremost, we are talking about the period of time between 1979 and 1995. Self-publishing was mostly unheard of. I didn’t know such a thing existed and it just wasn’t an option. There was one way, and only one way, to become a published author and that was through a traditional publishing house. To be honest, at that time I didn’t even know there were such things as small publishing houses. If you look at those dates again you’ll notice they also predate the Internet.

    The second reason has to do with why my novels didn’t appeal to publishers, and that was mostly because they weren’t any good. The story and characters weren’t too bad, but I didn’t know how to write. I find that is often the case. Either a writer is great at writing (sentence structure, and style) because they trained in that and not so good at character development and story structure, or it’s the other way around. It is rare to find both in one individual, but when you do—that’s a great author. The thing I’ve found is that you can learn to write better, but learning to be a more creative and analytical thinker (necessary to plug plot holes), not so much. Thing is most creative types don’t have the patience or discipline needed to teach themselves how to write well. This is why (in my opinion, as if I really need to point that out) there are so many well written bad books coming out of traditional publishing, and why there are so many fascinating and exciting, but horribly written books coming out of self-publishing.

    Lastly, and this is perhaps most to your point, the books I was writing near the end of that period were well written enough to be published, only they still weren’t good enough because I was trying to be something I wasn’t. I was mimicking other writers. I was copying their style and subject and I could never do as well as they did. I realized—even if the publishers didn’t—that being original is a huge benefit to sales. To this day many people look at Riyira as a mere regurgitation, even clichés of old ideas, and they are absolutely correct, but so was Star Wars, which seemed revolutionary when it debuted. My work was original because it bucked several trends, and it bucked those trends because I no longer mimicked what was out there, I wrote what I wanted to be out there—what I wanted to read.

    And no I have no intentions to publish those early novels, because they aren’t good enough. Just two years ago I spent two years writing a novel and trashed it because it was never going to be good enough. I have a standard now and I owe it to my readers to only put out good books.

    Thanks for asking

    MJS

  3. Wow, great answer, and very detailed. Thanks for taking the time. If you guys are looking for a topic for future shows, I would love to hear some of the technical difficulties you faced (or mistakes you made) in the beginning, and how you overcame them. I find myself in the second group, where I know what I want to say, but can’t always do it in a way that does the scene justice. At times I can edit a 250 word paragraph for 2 hours and still not be happy with it. (And then I want to bang my head against a tree.) So it’s encouraging to hear that some of the more successful authors also had to go through that process.

    I agree. One of the things I liked about Riyira was that it broke away from the grim dark fantasy that was so prevalent at the time. It was refreshing to read a story where the characters were likable, (if somewhat crooked.)
    I must admit though, what isn’t encouraging is that publishers, as you say, didn’t see the benefit to sales of an original work like that. So a rehashed story doesn’t sell because you are not bring true to yourself (which makes sense) and an original work doesn’t sell because publishers are afraid of something that’s too original. *Facepalm.* This really is a difficult industry to be in.

    Thanks once again for your detailed reply.

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