May 25, 2022

Who Are You Writing For?

I recently interviewed Julia Scheeres, author of the fantastic and must-read memoir, Jesus Land, and A Thousand Lives.

During the interview, which you can access below, I asked her the following question: “Do you imagine or envision a reader, or have a reader in mind while you write?”

Her answer: “Never.”

To say this totally caught me off-guard is an understatement. I just assumed that writers like Julia Scheeres, who’ve had major commercial success (her book was a New York Times bestseller) always write with someone in mind, with the goal and hope of telling their story for others, or with the goal and hope that someone somewhere will benefit from having read their story. Instead, she said: “You’re not writing it for anyone except for yourself. It might be for readers who are going through similar struggles, or a similar quest, but you’re not thinking about strangers or potential readers while you write. You’re writing from the heart.”

I appreciate being totally and utterly caught off-guard because it forces me to challenge my own assumptions. Why did I assume that any aspiring writer must automatically be writing for others? I think it comes from my years in the publishing industry, where the first rule of thumb is to prove to agents and then editors and then ultimately the sales team that there’s this huge, clamoring audience for your book. There can’t be a huge, clamoring audience if you’re only writing for yourself and you don’t keep the reader in mind. In book publishing, it’s always and only ever about the reader. So much so that the writer’s experience often gets lost. Which is why I encourage writers to finish their memoirs before they shop their book around to agents and editors so that they’re not trying to do the vulnerable work of finishing their book under the gaze of a sales and marketing machine.

What Julia helped me figure out was that writing you hope to publish is for others and for yourself. I think it’s important to have an audience in mind when you write. Julia writes from the heart, and for her there’s no other way. One might argue that writing from the heart equals writing that connects, that moves, that inspires. In other words, it doesn’t have to be an either/or. It’s an and. Like I said, I love being challenged in my assumptions. Julia’s definitive answer forced me to think. Her conviction was solid and true and right. Sometimes you will write for others. Sometimes you won’t. And sometimes it will be both. You must trust that you know what you need to motivate, move, and inspire yourself when you write. If you need an audience, imagine one. If you need solitude, then revel in it. Whatever you do, just keep writing!

Listen to my interview with Julia Scheeres here:


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