When I’m tempted to say, “Don’t worry about other people, just write for yourself” to someone I always stop and bite my tongue. Here’s why: the encouragement aspect doesn’t cross the pronoun barrier intact. It doesn’t mean what I want it to mean.
Writing for self is the ideal attitude when self-administered. “I write for myself,” I say, and that equals “I do this because it pleases me.” Making stories is an endeavor that combines hard labor and creative joy, and pleasing others with the results is on my list of joys. But I don’t put in the hours of blood, sweat, and tears expecting anyone else’s approval.
The problem comes when, write-for-self is issued as advice to someone else. That someone is usually feeling rudderless, bloodied by criticism, or mired in self-doubt. And under those circumstances the subtext of “just write for yourself,” is far less than ideal.
“You should write for yourself” can magically transform itself into little whispers of disdain. It begins to mean, “Stop whining and feeling lost/hurt/unwanted. Stop expecting anyone else to give a shit. You’re better off keeping your writing to yourself because one else wants it anyway. Shut up and go sit in the corner already. No one cares, no one wants to be bothered.”
Heard once, those whispers of interpretation are easily ignored. When over and over again, someone hears “just write for yourself, stop caring what other people think,” it can become a slow dripping poison that etches holes in the ego and bruises the soul.
I don’t like briusing people unintentionally. That acid mutation of meaning is why I don’t offer it as solace and why I loathe hearing it. As a confidence booster it has the opposite effect I think people intend. Or…well, let’s say I hope they don’t intend it as it sounds. Maybe they do.
Maybe they are trying to gently encourage me to go sit in the corner and stop sharing because they hate what I say and wish I would stop sharing it. I just don’t know. It could be read either way, and I’m not good with subtlety. Multiple meanings make it easy to be discouraging with encouragement. Damned with faint praise, even.
Am I being too analytical and “overthinking” this? Maybe. Thing is, I’ve learned that people who tell me I’m over-thinking things seldom have my best interests at heart. They usually want to undermine me without taking any blame for it.
So I’m more likely to believe my own bitter interpretation over the cheerier one. And that’s why I avoid offering it as encouragement. It isn’t encouraging.
Writing for myself is like breathing. It’s going to happen. I don’t go around telling other people they should breathe for themselves either. If I did, they would probably wonder if they were breathing too loudly and suspect I wished they would shut up. And that simply wouldn’t be true.