The Danger of Writing for Others

Happy New Year, everyone! As part of my reflections, I’ve been reviewing some of my writing weaknesses and trying to pinpoint a specific one on which I should work to improve in the new year. Usually the selection is overwhelming, but this year, one particular concept has been tugging at me for some time.

When I sit down to write, I’ve usually got a basic idea of what I intend to put on the screen. I might not know every character that will show up, how to get from point A to point B, or even what the ultimate twist in the story is, but those are all aspects of my narrative that unfold over time, revealed to me as I write and brainstorm. When I’m writing a first draft, my main concern—for the most part—is making sure that the story is coming out in a manner that gives me the possibility of returning to rewrite or edit. The writing of it should be enjoyable, which, to me, is the point of the first draft. The second and all following drafts, however, are meant to be enjoyable to read.

But something sinister occasionally stirs into the mix when I’m working on any draft. Something with the power to stop me mid-word, to drive me away from my desk, to deflate the balloon of excitement and adventure that normally propels me forward. Something that, in short, burns my zeppelin out of the sky.


According to the all-knowing interwebs, Socrates is alleged to have said, “What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.” While I personally dislike the translation’s choice of words (I just can’t imagine Socrates using the Greek slang equivalent of “screw up,” but I could be wrong), the sentiment expressed has long resonated with me. I’m a planner—not when it comes to the practice of writing; I’m more of a plantser there—that person who has a one-week, one-month, one-year, ten-year plan. Do my plans work out as I want them to? Hardly, and most of the time, that’s for the better. But I rarely grant myself grace in failure. My disappointment is real when I don’t live up to the expectations I have placed upon myself. Not only is it painful, it can have lasting, crippling effects.

Take, for instance, the expectation that I would be published by age eighteen. Or by age twenty-one. Or by age twenty-five. Or at least by now. I put those pressures on myself, and they do nothing to spur me forward—they just make me feel an overwhelming sense of guilt when I’m not working toward them, and ultimately when I fail to meet my self-ascribed deadlines. The pressure makes it hard to write. There is so much riding on every word I include in a manuscript. On occasion, the shame of past failures comes back to haunt me, even when I’m actively doing my best toward publication.

Those are just the expectations that I place on myself. Now consider that others around me have expectations, suppositions, and opinions that might have to do with the rate at which I’m published, but also have to do with the content I publish, the way I write, the ideas I express, the kinds of characters I introduce, the scenes I explore, and all the other myriad little personal nitpicks that can drive a person insane. Normally, I use writing as a way to escape the world, but sometimes, especially when I know I will one day share that writing with the world, I freeze up with fear. Midway through a sentence, I might doubt that what I’m writing is appropriate to share with others. They might get the wrong impression. They might realize they had the wrong idea about me all along. They might recognize that I’m a fraud and that I have no real idea of what I’m doing.

Let’s face it. Writing is a risky business. Sharing your writing—an idea or summary, an excerpt, or the full manuscript—is the ultimate act of vulnerability. It requires a kind of bravery most people don’t ever have to think of using. It’s putting yourself out there, come renown or ridicule or, perhaps worst of all, indifference. It’s an expression of pride subjected to the most humbling reactions. It hurts sometimes.

It’s easy to get lost in the critique and the suggestions, to let doubt invade. That doubt obstructs your ability to do your best, which—at least in my case—can impel me on a downward spiral of despair. I have, for so long, “expected” to be a professional writer… but if certain people don’t like my story, then how can I ever be good enough to make it? My desire to become a bestselling author sometimes morphs into a desperation: I have to be a bestselling author. I have to make money so I can live this lifestyle I’ve envisioned for myself. I have to be well-respected in the writing community, active and well-known, so that I can grasp all the opportunities I’ve long wanted. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone who has never published before, and even for someone who has!

The point is that people’s opinions—and the bestseller lists—are not things you can control. The only thing you can control is doing the best you can do at what you do. Not in what you think you should be doing. Not what the bestselling author in your genre is doing. Not what you perceive others will want you to do. It has to be distinctly your own; anything else cheapens the effort and often sabotages the writing itself.

Writing for others is dangerous. We are not mind readers, and we cannot predict the fickle market. Writing to please others robs us of the fun of discovering a new world the way we want to. After all, “You can’t please everyone.” We frequently feel an expectation that something has to be a certain way, not because we as the writers want it that way or because the story demands it be that way, but because we perceive the audience wants it to be that way. Our writing suffers as a result, and we churn out something that hardly brushes the limits of our potential.

But if we write for ourselves with the intentions of making our story enjoyable for both us as the writer and us as the reader—without the pressure of having to make money or earn an award or top a list, all things we have relatively little control over—the practice of writing will be more fulfilling as a whole. That’s not to say that you should eschew editors’ or beta readers’ suggestions to fix parts of your story—that’s important, too. But stay sincere and true to your voice, your mode of expression, and your vision, and use them as the framework on which you build your narrative.

This is my goal for myself as a writer this year. I’m committing to sharing my work–no matter what others might think of it–and implementing suggestions and advice without compromising my intentions for my work. I may never make millions, chart on bestseller lists, or find myself at the receiving end of a movie deal, but I will enjoy what I do. I can own it. If I can drop those expectations, if I can free myself of the worry about pleasing others or following their perceptions of what should be, if I stop writing for “them” and start writing for me, I can find peace and joy in writing. And that’s the whole point.

May you have a wordy and fulfilling 2018!


[Short Story] High Noon

I wrote this piece during NaNo17, between the hours of 12pm and 2am the day it was due for my local writing club’s annual short story contest. The prompt was “Snowbirds.” (They are everywhere in Florida, people from up north who come to live down here during the winter to escape the snow. For the record, as a whole they are terrible drivers.)  I was half-delirious when I wrote it, but I think it turned out okay. It’s pretty much a one-shot–not much editing involved except for a last-minute review just before I submitted it for judging.


“I’m sorry, Mrs. Leona, but our system seems to have glitched. The courtesy car we were planning to give you was double-booked with another appointment at the same time.”

On any other day, Maggie would have laughed it off and joined the other unfortunates lounging in the waiting room of the dealership. She might have gladly taken a break from life to sip at a hot mug of coffee, and even at that moment the aroma of a fresh brew wafted over her like country air.

But she had to be back at the Riverrun Country Club House at noon if she hoped to defend her HOA presidential nomination against Luanne Marcone, the one woman in the world she would relinquish even coffee to sabotage. A transplant from Chicago, Luanne called Florida her home from the first week of November through the last of March. Maggie, however, came down from the Adirondacks from October through April. Luanne’s greater absence alone should have been sufficient to lay the matter of the presidency to rest.

Maggie fixed the clerk—Becky, as her nametag read—with the kind of glare that had kept her husband faithful for thirty-four years.

“I must have that car. Is it still here? If it is, I was here first.”

“I—I think it is, but let me talk to my supervisor.”

Before Becky could skulk away, the glass double doors of the dealership’s service center swung open amid a torrent of dust kicked up by the autumn breeze, and there stood Luanne Marcone. She was tall, slender only because of it, her face long and eyes shrewd. She paused a step inside, her arms still stretched wide to hold the doors ajar as she narrowed her eyes at Maggie. Maggie stared back at her, her heart pounding against the jail of her ribs. Slowly, Luanne dropped her arms to her sides, and the doors swung closed behind her with a final thud.


“Luanne.” Continue reading

NaNoWriMo17: Day 30

*throws streamers* *shoots off fireworks* *releases doves* *reconsiders the intelligence of mixing doves with fireworks*


I hope you all managed to write that at the bottom of your document today, but if not, keep going and make it happen! We survived, everyone! (At least, I assume you did, if you’re reading this.) NaNo17–for better or worse–is over!

My NaNo17 grand total: 506,605 words.

The half million has been vanquished. What a run. I wrote 6k this morning before work, and the remaining 4k I needed to reach 500k I really dragged my feet on this evening. I validated at exactly 500k (my 500,000th word was “accomplish”), and then just wandered the forums. Then suddenly in the last two hours, I couldn’t stand it and decided 506,605 was the number to get. I was shaking like crazy in the last three minutes, so worried I wouldn’t reach it, and the shaking made me type even more slowly–but I did it! I wrote the last word 20 seconds before midnight. Novel #5, Sky Lords, is not yet finished, though I didn’t expect it to be, so that’s cool–I’m getting into the harrowing rise to the climax, so I know there isn’t more than maybe 15-20k remaining in the story.

Now for some nerdy statistics. Because I’m a nerd, that’s why.

  • Total words written: 506,605 (New Record)
  • Most words in a day: 30,125 (11/4) (NR)
  • Fewest words in a day: 6,179 (11/18)
  • Daily average: 16,886 (NR)
  • Number of words past original goal (500,000): 6,605
  • Number of words past previous best (425,524): 81,081
  • NaNo Lifetime word count: 1,921,735
  • Number of projects: 6 (4 completed novels, 1 incomplete novel, 1 complete short story)
  • Total MC/SC deaths: 2
  • Cried for characters: 6 times
  • First word/last word: I (in dialogue)/voice
  • Ranking on Beyond 50k NaNo Faces: 4th
  • Average daily sleep: 5 hours
  • Strangest writing place: In a corner of a full, busy house, dictating quietly into my phone
  • Painkiller of choice: Aleve
  • Weight lost: 4.5 lbs.


Just like that, it’s December! My writing goals, of course, will be diminished in the coming days–I would like to finish Sky Lords within the next two weeks, definitely before Christmas. I will also be getting back to editing Cursed Book 1 and hope to have the first round of edits finished by February 11.

As a side note–I feel silly not having thought of this sooner–but you can add me as a buddy on the NaNo site if you want, even though it’s over for the year. I can guarantee I’ll be there next year!

Let us revel in our victory!

NaNoWriMo17: Day 29


People, we have one day–I repeat, ONE DAY–left of NaNo. I’m not sure whether to laugh like a maniac or sob inconsolably.

After writing 20,102 (a beautiful and unintended palindrome!) today in spite of a full day at work, I’m up to 490k and some change. I know, it’s so tantalizingly close to 500k! You can’t imagine how many arguments I had with myself today on whether or not 30k was in the mix. (Obviously no. Self, you crazy.) I was actually blowing myself away with my own typing speed today: I was keeping a consistent 70+wpm speed over the course of 4 hours. It was insane. Tonight’s 15-minute word wars were slamming my usual 800-900 words into the dust, and I was routinely averaging between 1050-1200.

This story has actually been easy to write. (Thus far. That might change tomorrow.) There aren’t a lot of moving parts in it, which is a bit different from my normal stories, but because it’s a pantsed project, I know I’ll rewrite it anyway, so there is zero pressure to get the story perfect. Consequently, I’m having a blast with it. Crazy cannibal boy-king was introduced today (the last chapter I wrote), and I’m on the verge of the rising action, so that’s been fun and promises to be entertaining tomorrow, too.

I work all day tomorrow, but I’m going to try to hit 500k before I get to work, which means a very early morning. I don’t know if I can do it–the real trouble is getting up at 5am. It’s already 12:30am. I’m already dizzy with weariness (either that or my screen and the rest of the world have been tilting back and forth for the last three hours).

But this is it. This is the culmination of a month that has been a literal marathon. Whether you need 1,500 or 15,000 words more to reach your goal, you’ve got this. Your novel deserves your best effort, and you deserve to have a finished novel (or completed goal) after working so hard for so long.

Let’s do this.

NaNoWriMo17: Day 28

Ack! We’re literally in the last 48 hours, guys!

I managed to get 16k out again today, which digs into my buffer by about 650 words, but I’m cool with that, as I am now sitting at a little over 470k. I’m still ahead of schedule by about 3.5k, and everything has been cancelled this week for NaNo, so time should not be an issue.

This new story, Sky Lords, is coming along just fine. I was worried for a while yesterday about it, as last night it seemed to derail (90% pantsing, 10% planning on this particular project), but it derailed for the better, apparently, because it’s all actually tying in, even when I thought it wouldn’t. So yay for that! Just can’t wait for the cannibalistic boy-king to show up and the accompanying jokes and back-and-forth dialogue my MCs will have concerning him. I don’t think I’ll end up finishing the story by Thursday, but I’ll wrap it up in the beginning of December.

Tomorrow, I might try for 18k–that will cut down on what I need for Thursday, and I am so looking forward to validation. I also don’t want to try validating when the site is super busy with others entertaining the same thought, so the sooner I hit 500k, the better.

Ladies and gentlemen, as we begin our descent, please ensure your keyboards are in their full upright and non-caps-locked position. Check that your novel is securely backed up and all plot bunnies are stowed safely on the document in front of you or in your scratchpad notebook. Thank you.

NaNoWriMo17: Day 27

Three days left? Three days left!

I closed up shop today with a tad over 16k, which brings me up to about 454k. That’s 4k beyond what I needed to be at today (450k), so I’ll take it! Now 500k is getting so close I can almost taste it. And it is even more delicious than 400k was.

I didn’t get a lot of writing done until after work for one primary reason: I usually dictate on the way to and from work, then at lunch in my car. But I was legitimately laughing too hard at my characters to dictate at more than half my usual speed. The characters in Sky Lords, carried over from Angels of Ilesanzi, are so incredibly hilarious. As stated before many a time in this blog, I’m probably the only one who finds my writing humorous, but wow. I could hardly get a word out for snickering. They are the most irreverent, non-PC side of me and it is glorious.

I’m hoping for another 16k tomorrow; I’m canceling my usual walk with my mom to allow for more time. The only thing that gets equal priority with NaNo this week (work has a higher priority) is violin. I have committed to my very first violin recital in two weeks and I need to practice. So that alone has survived–all else has been tossed aside for focus later.

And I totally forgot to celebrate here in my last post: yesterday, I officially surpassed my previous highest NaNo word count of 425,524. And now I’m almost 30k ahead of that!

Good times, people. Write on!

NaNoWriMo17: Day 26

What a whirlwind of story-induced emotions today!

I didn’t hit the 20k I wanted for the day, but I’m still ahead of my 500k goal by about 5k words. I stopped at about 17k for the night, which brings me to 438k and some change.

I finished the last book in my quintet today. To say it was emotional is an understatement. I’m not an emotional person, but I’m fluctuating right now between joy and distress. I love those characters, and now the adventure I went on with them is over. Yes, I’ll have years of rewriting and editing ahead of me to look forward to (and I am excited for it), but it’s not the same kind of adventurous discovery that a first draft is. It’s like knowing that I’ll meet those people again, and we’ll talk and reminisce, but it will never again be the glory days of our younger selves.

So it’s a good thing that I have another novel I love up next! I started it tonight, literally seconds after writing “The End” for the quintet (and on the same document), and I’m glad I did. This new book is the sequel to Angels of Ilesanzi, a novel I wrote back in December 2015/January 2016 and completely rewrote for NaNo16 (the second version is much better). It’s a fantasy buddy-comedy, a mad story about three antiheroes who spend all their time trying to do the right thing the wrong way, and they’re hilarious. It’s always fun to visit with them, so I at least have them to distract me from the sadness of finishing the Cursed quintet.

As for the 50k weekend, I closed shop with 61.5k total, which isn’t too shabby. Onward to 500k!

NaNoWriMo17: Day 25

After being miserable with this cold all day and procrastinating on writing until almost 3pm, I managed to churn out 20.5k to get to 421k, 500 words beyond my goal and about 4k ahead of what I need for 500k.  It also puts me at a total of 44,500 words to go towards my 50k weekend. So woohoo for that! Not so much woohooing for this sickness.

The last couple of days, I have been using the My Word Sprints feature on the site. I think that this is new for this year (I don’t remember seeing it last year), and sometimes I invite people, sometimes I don’t. It’s been helpful to get me going. I usually do private 15-minute sprints, and instead of having to wait for :15 or :20 or some time like that, if I finish at, say, :11, I’ll just go back to the word sprints feature and start another one right after I update my word count. It shaves off several minutes of just waiting around for the next war to start, and those several minutes go a long way toward adding to my word count!

I’m also SO close to the end of this book. I mean “so” is relative–there is definitely another 10k words involved, and I’m thinking it will be closer to 20k. So maybe I’ll just aim to finish it tomorrow? Possibly. I might even drag it on beyond that–I don’t know that I’m ready to give it up yet!

I have church and violin lessons tomorrow (and I probably should go buy some food at some point, I guess), but I’m still going to pull for another 20k day. I won’t be too mad if I don’t make it, though. Hopefully I’m feeling better tomorrow, especially since I’m going to bed at as reasonable a time as half-past midnight. /sarc

Tomorrow is the last day of our final NaNo weekend! Bring on the words!

NaNoWriMo17: Days 23 & 24

First of all, happy belated Thanksgiving!

Second: 400k, baby!

I’d stop there except that I’m wordy and must explain myself. I had hoped for a minimum 20k day on Thursday. But family being what family is–and the joyous revival of game night–I only reached 16k. This was all right, because at least I didn’t fall behind except by a couple hundred words.

But that put me in a predicament. I was sitting at 376k. One does not simply sit 24k words away from 400k without getting it. It was too close to pass up. So after work today (I got off at 1pm), following a lovely lunch with my boss and coworker, a run to the (somewhat distant and sardine-packed) outlet mall (during the drive to which I dictated while navigating through invading hordes of snowbirds), and, finally when I returned home, a quick break to watch the second half of Quigley Down Under, I finally sat down at my computer and pounded those words out. I hit 400k with one minute to spare tonight, and that puts me on par for 500k again!

In other news, I am now legitimately sick–this allergy thing got massively worse as soon as I got home tonight (why I took that break), I was running a low-grade fever a couple days ago, and today I have cultivated a fine, raspy cough. I would complain, except it’s probably obvious to everyone that my outsize NaNo ambitions have compromised my health and led to this, so I’m just going to take it as par for the course.

As for tomorrow, I hope to complete book 4 for NaNo (book 5 in my quintet). I’m not sure if it will happen, though. I’m going for 20k tomorrow as part of a 50k weekend attempt (Fri-Sat-Sun), but I’m thinking it will be 30-40k before this sucker wraps up. We’ll see. I might just blow everyone up and call it a day.

Happy writing! Let’s start this final weekend of NaNo off with a bang (which may or may not indicate the blowing up of all your characters)!