“Everybody has imaginary friends.”

I’m convinced that the only way to write well is to write for yourself. Whenever I start writing something because I think others will like it better this way, my writing plunges to the depths of humiliating awfulness. I never quite understood why, but I knew that was just how it worked.

And then I read “The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy” by Kate Hattemer, and a lightbulb clicked on.

Here’s an abbreviated version of Elizabeth’s rant as she tries to clue Ethan in to life:

“Andrezejczak,” Elizabeth said, “you’re doing it again. ‘I’m singularly unequipped.’ You think you’re the only real person. You think you’re the only one who’s amazed and scared and freaked by how complicated everyone is.”

“You are?”

“Of course I am. . . . Everybody else has unattainable crushes too,” she said. “And imaginary friends. Some part of their mind that they talk to when they can’t deal with talking to real people. You just happen to name yours.” (255–256)

When we look at others, we can only see so much. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that those perky, outgoing, talkative people can share the same fears and insecurities that are so prominent in our own minds. That those successful authors, those Pinterest-perfect mothers, those brilliant artists can ever doubt themselves. That anyone else could possibly have enough in common with us that they will appreciate the stories that come from our hearts.

It’s true that each person is unique, that none are exactly like another. But there is a reason that good stories resonate with people across the world. We all have hopes and doubts and fears and dreams. We are all human.

So if we all share these deep core elements, why does it never work to write something we think others will like, rather than something we like?

When you look at someone, you look through the filter of your own perception. You can’t see everything that person is. You can’t fathom the depths and complications of another’s mind. It’s hard enough to come to grips with your own depths and complications. If you write for the person you see through that filter, you write for someone who doesn’t exist.

But you know your own soul. You know the truths and twists and turns that make up your own being. And if you write something that rings true to your own soul, you’re going to get a lot closer to the core of the rest of the world.

So have faith that everybody else is “amazed and scared and freaked by how complicated everyone is.” Remember that “everybody else has . . . imaginary friends.” Go forward and write your stories for yourself, knowing that that is the only way you can possibly write for others.

***

What do you say? Do you ever find yourself writing to please others, instead of yourself? Have you noticed whether it makes a difference in your writing?

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9 Comments

  1. I write for myself because I have no idea what people like. I write about characters I adore. This week I wrote a short story featuring a boy with freckles and glasses that I’m now madly in love with. That’s what I write about – people and things and places I love.

    Also, this reminds me of something Glennon Doyle Melton (momastery.com) once wrote. She said, “Don’t give us someone who knows how to string together lovely words—as if words were flowers and writing simply a matter of arranging them attractively. Give us someone who fills up her trembling hands with her dirty insides and holds them out to us and says, ‘Are we sure this is dirt? Might it be gold?’”

  2. This is all so true! I find myself even stumbling when trying to write a new post on my blog if I try to write something that will appeal to others (hence, why I haven’t posted yet this week). My characters are people I’ve created for me, and as others have said, I only hope someone else likes to read about them.

  3. Pingback: Here’s the thing about October | tattooedmissionary

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