Writing Advice: Write Only for Yourself

Ray Bradbury said “Write only for yourself”

You can’t write for other people. You can’t write for the left or the right, this religion or that religion, or this belief or that belief. You have to write the way you see things. I tell people, make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them.

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

This is excellent advice! At times I’ve gotten stuck in my writing, and after thinking about the cause, I usually find that I’m attempting to write for the wrong reason. For the past couple years, I’ve been writing short stories in hopes of getting published in one of the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association) recognized magazines so I can become a member of SFWA.

Sometimes I catch myself trying to write not from my heart, but with an end goal in mind, publication. This means I’m on step 2, but thinking about step 12. NOT a good idea. It ends up making the story sound stilted. When the story demands to be triangle shape, but you are trying to make it a hexagon shape, it doesn’t work out very well.

It is good to have a goal of publication. However that should not be on your mind as you write the rough draft.

When should you think about the end goal?

In the revision process, you might want to keep the publisher you are courting in mind. For example, I like the Podcastle publication. I know that they like diverse, cultural stories. They like lyrical description. So if I’m revising a story to submit to them, I might look at my prose and rewrite it to match their tastes. I tend to write in a very utilitarian tone, so for me that means quite a bit of revision.

If I sat down to write a story with Podcastle in mind, I might focus on the lyrical prose so much that the overall story would suffer. But more likely, I’d get so stuck on that piece that it would land in the DNF (did not finish) pile. It is easier for me to first write a good story, then revise the prose and tweak things in the story later on.

More than ten years ago I tried writing a novel and got pretty far before I decided I should read some how to books on writing. I read half a dozen books, as I tend to do when a topic interests me. Then I tried to implement ALL that I learned. I got stuck and stopped writing for about ten years.

Another Danger: Preaching

Some people set out to tell a story with a message. While it is true that good stories will have a life lesson or several, one must be very careful in how this is approached.

I find that when I set out to write a story with a certain message it sounds preachy. However if I write the story from my heart and let the message come out organically it turns out better. In revision, I can go back in and gently tease out the message a little bit.

I learned a delightful lesson from listening to the Writing Excuses podcast. Instead of preaching toward one side or another–and making perhaps half of your audience mad at you and hate your writing–through your characters, present the various viewpoints and allow your audience to decide where they stand on the issue at hand. No one, especially your readers, wants to be told what to believe. Many do like hearing about an issue from different angles, perhaps even an angle they’ve never thought about before.

A word of caution, though, make sure both or all of the sides make intelligent arguments. Avoid logical fallacies and other pitfalls of bad rhetoric if you can so that the arguments are authentic sounding, not contrived and heavy handed.

I am sure there are many other aspects of this topic I’ve not yet explored. Perhaps in another post sometime. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Please comment or message me on social media!

Until next time, happy writing!