On Writing: Communication v. Self-Expression

A few days ago I read an article someone posted on Medium advocating the idea that one should “write for one’s self” rather than sweating over being read or unread by anyone. Here was my response:

“I just want to write for myself.” There’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself, and sometimes it’s this mindset that is most beneficial, but I think a lot of serious writers also want to be read, i.e. they’re not just writing for themselves, but are seeking an audience as well.

If you want to be read there are a few basic approaches. One is that you write something that will appeal to the majority. The problem with this is that there are a lot of mediocrities out there doing the same thing. So in order to stand-out you could either have an “original” premise, or market yourself. But, ultimately, the best, most substantial approach lies in not so much the content of the story, but the way it’s written. You could write a mediocre piece of crap that people will care about now, but does that mean it will be continued to be read 100 years from now? If you want to be read I think the reader should always be kept in mind, but that doesn’t mean you should merely appeal to his “likes” and “dislikes”; you should write something that is intellectually great, something that not only contains ideas, but carries those ideas to the reader in an interesting way. The works of Melville and Kafka, while neglected during their lifetimes, are today read all-over because they aren’t masturbatory journals, nor crappy pulp-novels that appeal to the lowest common denominator, but works of literature that actually offer something to the reader.

While I do think that a writer shouldn’t just cater to the biases and desires of the reader, the reader should still always been in mind when one writes. Despite some overlap there is a distinction between mere self-expression and communication. With the former all the writer cares about is putting himself out there. Yes, good writing and art can arise from this, but for the most part communicating ideas isn’t what’s pertinent, but rather it’s the ego of the writer. I sometimes scroll through WordPress and other sites, surveying some of the poetry that is constantly posted and 99 percent of it is garbage; this is largely because the people posting the poems don’t care about effectively communicating something to the reader, but are more concerned about just putting whatever thoughts and feelings they have onto a screen. A lot of “poets” don’t pay attention to the art of writing because there is no reason to; they’re just writing for themselves and that’s okay; but, if you want to be taken seriously as an artist, you have to do more than just write for yourself: you have to write well which means taking into account the reader’s intellect (not just his emotions!)

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