The more we live and learn, the more we realize we know nothing about anything. The same goes for writing.
Just when we think we know it well enough to be good at it, we realize we’re nothing but children playing in the sand pit of dismembered words and empty vowels.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘if you want to be a successful writer, make it about your reader’. I’ve said it so many times myself.
I even have an e-book that has it as one of its pillars of successful writing: make it about your reader. Why else would they read you if you write only about you? The readers are there for themselves, not for you, you self-serving narcissist.
Yeah, I have a lot of strong arguments about why you should write for the reader and they’re all so logical. Almost soundproof.
But then again, just because something is logical doesn’t mean it’s true.
But there’s also a second layer to it: just because it’s true it doesn’t mean its opposite is not just as true.
Let me explain myself.
It’s 2023 and the world of writing is all about personal stories. As personal as they get, invite you into my life and my bed kind of personal.
Medium changes algorithm and takes a steep turn towards personal stories. They’re directly asking for it. Wait, what? If it’s personal, how is it about the reader? If it’s personal it’s 100% about me.
And then My Tango reached out to me to republish some of my articles and if I was so inclined, to pitch some new ones to them. Great! Here come some pitches. Answer? Oh, no, we aren’t so interested in service pieces, can you please send us some personal experiences?
What on earth is going on here?
Is the world finally sick and tired of proving how they serve others? Where are the politicians, salespeople, and crypto bros whose purpose in life is to serve and then scream it from the mountain tops? Don’t worry, they’re still around. Sadly…
I’m Getting Sick and Tired of Hearing the Rich and Affluent Talking About Serving
I took a break and thought for a minute about what’s successful today.
Tik Tok? All personal stories. Stupid small silly snippets from people’s lives, dancing in their living rooms, wearing stained pajamas, holding their dogs, uncombed hair and all. So personal you can almost smell that morning breath.
How has the world reached this level of intrusion into people’s most intimate hours? And then I figured… this is nothing new.
If his writing is not personal, nothing is. It’s so dark and personal that while reading you feel like a fly on a wall watching him drag his existence through dirty bars and rancid skid row motels, drinking himself into oblivion and hanging out with fellow losers.
And still, somebody loved his obscure work so much he decided to give it a chance. Bukowski quit his low-paid job for an even lower-paid opportunity to write. Write about himself and his sordid little life.
There is one star in Bukowski’s life and it’s not the reader. It’s himself. His need to be seen, read, and heard, an all-consuming thirst to share it all with the world and have the eyes of the public lick his literary wounds.
He was ‘write or die’, all-in, all-him, and it worked.
Today, he is the great American writer.
And then I thought about my writing and realized how delusional I’ve been: I’ve never written for the reader.
And I’ve been quite successful. Look, see?
My writing has been about me, what I think, how I feel, and my personal experiences that got me to where I am today, and if someone wanted to learn from that, I was there to share.
If they didn’t, well, that’s the best I had anyway.
Apparently, it was good enough. Readers wanted more. Because just like them, I’ve been through thick and thin, and I’ve struggled with the same issues: basically love, money, and belonging to a world of smoke and mirrors. There’s nothing else, I swear to god!
The problem is that you can’t make it about others unless you make it about you first. Unless you have an inspiring personal story, nobody is going to want to read it, because it’s boring and all our lives are horribly boring.
Yes, even yours, Elon Musk.
That’s why we do everything we do: because we’re trying to escape the minutia of everyday existence and make it into something tolerable, even magic sometimes.
That’s why we turn to all forms of escapism. Even Bukowski’s life was unbearable — that’s why he was an alcoholic and sex addict, trying to make himself feel better, or at least feel something.
And that’s what your reader is expecting from you. Not to write for him or about him. But to write about you. In such a way that he becomes you. Whenever I read Bukowski, I become that dirty old man too drunk to enjoy the bar floozy of the night.
I live his life, I feel his pain. And for a second, just for a tiny second, I have access to different worlds, different planets, different realities. For a second, I don’t have to be me.
Don’t let your reader be himself. It’s painful. Make him be you. With all your pain and the drama. At least they’re not his.
The trick is to make the reader feel. But not directly. It doesn’t work that way.
Directly would be like going up to a gorgeous woman and asking her to like you because you like her. I’m mentioning this exact example because I’ve seen this conversation happen over and over again as a relationship coach.
Guy: ‘You should be with me.’
Guy: ‘Because I like you.’
Girl: ‘Bye then.’
Silly, right? So then why do we (pretend to) write for others, when writing is a deeply personal experience that makes us one with ourselves? Not with others.
That’s a by-product of writing, not the main result. Writing brings us back home to the soul we vacated in order to fit into an impersonal and void world.
And only then can we connect to our audience and they can connect with us. Because they’re in the same void world. And our writing can, at least for a split second, fill it up.
If you can’t write for yourself, you can’t write for the reader. Period.
Buy my book where I teach you how to be a successful writer. Haha, just kidding. Don’t buy anything. Just write. And sell feet picks to pay bills until you become the next Bukowski.