I've been working on another long one this week. It's the story of the first solo camping trip I ever took, a trip that happened just last summer. It's also a story about trying to feel safe in a world that doesn't make that easy for a woman traveling alone. But I'm finding I need a little more time on that one.
Why? Well, #metoo. It's inevitable that — even though I'm telling a story that took place last summer — the #metoo movement has added a new layer to it. And it's a layer I'm not sure that I can, or want to, ignore. But then I ask myself: Why do I need to write that in? What's the reason? Is it for me? Or is it for you, the audience I can't see and don't even fully know? Who am I trying to please in including it?
It's a question I still need time to answer.
The question itself, however, draws me back to the whole reason I started this new blog. It was high time I did some writing for myself.
The question of whether you're writing for yourself or for an audience has always plagued those who write. It's nothing original and nothing new. It's hilarious to me to think back on the rather prescient warning-to-my-future-self encapsulated in the quotes I chose to accompany my photo in my senior-class college yearbook:
Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy.
— Jack Kerouac
When you write for an audience, that's when you stop writing.
— William S. Burroughs
(Actually, I'm paraphrasing Burroughs here, as I can't find the original quote online and my college yearbook is buried somewhere amidst the 30-odd boxes of books currently resident in my garage. But if I didn't remember it exactly right, I'm certain I'm close.)
Virginia Woolf — another old friend from my college years — also offers conscience-soothing words that bless my efforts to take the time to write for myself: "So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say."
And while Kurt Vonnegut doesn't specifically talk about writing for oneself, his advice is to write for only one person at a time: "Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia." By implication, I'm allowed to make that person me.
Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying. In the work that pays my bills, I must write for an audience, and in that context, it's something I very much enjoy. It's strategic. It's challenging. To design content that engages a specific audience, you must never lose sight of who you're writing for and what they need from you.
For my creative writing to be authentic, however, I think I need to make a concerted effort NOT to worry about what my audience thinks. Of course, I will still love when that audience engages with and responds with appreciation for what I write. That piece of the writing puzzle will never go away, because in any act of writing, the writer seeks to communicate something, to make something felt by another. The validation "I understand" is ultimately what we seek. Even better is, "I understand, and it means something to me."
Thank you to all of you who constitute my audience. I will continue to love showing you the fruits of my (sometimes half-assed, sometimes overthought, sometimes hopefully just right) labors. But as I write — as I make decisions about what should and shouldn't go into the story or blog or whatever it is I'm writing — I will be doing my best to forget you exist. And we'll just have to see what happens from there.