Don't Make Writing About Yourself

by Joe Bunting | 40 comments

Not long ago in my writing career, my readership reached an all-time low. It was a pretty drastic drop. My writing was inconsistent, and so were my topics. I wasn’t giving anyone a reason to follow me. But even without the readers, I still had an urge to write.

It was then I made the mistake of making my writing about myself.

I Love My...

Photo by Nina Matthews

As writers and artists, it’s imperative to not allow reviews, sales, or the number of followers we have determine our value as creators. If you give something outside of your control so much power, your life can become an insufferable rollercoaster of highs and lows. If a single poor review or comment has the power to ruin your urge to write, your pride will eventually end your writing altogether.

However, what many writers do in response is to embrace writing for the sake of writing. We subtly and rebelliously turn writing into our own selfish release of the “artist inside of us.” This clichéd, starving-artist mentality is not the answer, either.

It’s the responsibility of talented writers to use their gift as a gift to others. We don’t write for the approval of our readers, but we do write for our readers. We challenge and inspire. The more we become servants of our craft, the more successful we’re likely to become.

Three Ways to Your Writing About Your Reader

Here are three ways to write for your reader:

1. Write with your Reader in Mind

If you’re writing from personal experience, are you bringing something to the reader besides a cool story? It should encourage, challenge, or inspire your reader. It should move your audience forward in some way. One way to do this is to think of a specific person, like a friend of family member. Write like they’re the only person that will read your writing. What do you want them to take away?

2. Make it relational

Reach out to your audience. Be personal. Get to know the people that consistently encourage you or comment on your writing. There’s a reason that a writer’s first followers are their friends and family, so it’s a good idea to make more friends!

3. Be Thankful

Your readers are your support group. They have millions of options for writers they could follow, and they chose you. And, more importantly, they could stop choosing you at any moment. So be thankful, and let them know you appreciate them.

Remember, you’re not writing for the approval of your readers, you’re writing for your readers. (Tweet that?)


Picture one of your readers in your mind. Then, write for him or her.

Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to a few other readers.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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  1. Karoline Kingley

    Great post. This is something I try to keep in mind, but maintaining perspective can be difficult. But when I do choose to be selfless, I find myself relinquishing my own criteria and creating something real and raw.

  2. eva rose

    This is a great tip for any writer. Recently I heard the words of a song including the thought, “It happened, I lost every dime, but I was richer by far with a satisfied mind”. It intrigued me to define “satisfied mind” and the resulting piece received more response from readers than what I’d written for months. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Giulia Esposito

      The song that keeps me going is Sleeping at the Wheel by Matchbox Twenty.

  3. Cindy Christeson

    “Oh, my dear grieving friend, thank you for listening to this message. I didn’t expect that you would answer the phone, and I imagine that when your answering machine clicked on, you were as surprised as I was to hear your cheery voice rattling on about being too busy to answer and saying that you would get back to the caller when you were available. It’s hard to imagine feeling so happy, isn’t it? You are probably shaking your head and wondering if that was really you. You recorded that message ‘THEN’, before everything changed. And this is ‘NOW’, which feels so far away from the life you loved, and the one you loved. I ache for your ache, and I grieve for your grief, and I hate that you lost your child. That simply shouldn’t happen, the order is all wrong and the universe feels upside down, doesn’t it? I remember when another grieving mother said to me, ‘Welcome to the club that nobody wants to be a member of’, that I wanted to punch something, or someone.

    I hoped if I talked long enough, you would hear that I don’t offer any pat answers, there are none, other than to say I offer to walk this journey with you, to walk in silence if you want, cry when you need, or, when you ask, I will share some of the things I have learned that have helped. There is help and hope, but I won’t lie, it isn’t easy. But I want you to know, you will see colors in life again, they will come back, so will joy. You will use the word ‘Bittersweet’ more than ever before, because, well, life just is. The bitter, is – oh, so ruggedly painful. But the sweet becomes sweeter, because God comes through in a way I never knew existed, with a tender caring that can soothe that cavernous hole in your heart.

    Again, dear friend, to say I am so sorry, sounds trite, but there simply aren’t the right words. Let me just end this call by saying, I am here to help in any way. I even know how almost impossible it is to make a phone call, so, I’ll just call back in 1/2 hour, and please pick up if it’s time. If not, send me an email when you want me to try again. Love, hugs and prayers to you. Bye for now.”

    • Paul Owen

      This is beautiful, Cindy. That’s the sort of call I’ll want when I’m grieving next. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mirelba

      Heartbreaking but beautiful.

  4. Paul Owen

    A certain reader encouraged me to do more with this character, so I did! Still not sure who he is or what’s next, but I’m thankful for the nudge…

    I’m still mystified at how I got involved with this work. Almost seemed that it chose me. I’d never had premonitions, or a sixth sense, or whatever you call it. It was always the here and now, unfolding before me.

    Then one day, I was standing in line at the grocery store checkout. The man in front of me seemed normal, yet not quite. The more I watched him the more uneasy I felt, but I couldn’t figure out why. Soon I felt a tingling behind my right ear. Tried to rub it away, but it turned into something like an alarm in my head.

    The guy stepped out of the checkout line and reached for something in his waistband. I don’t remember thinking about what to do next, I just tackled him. We thrashed around on the floor amid customers’ screams and yells. He had a wiry build but was strong like Schwarzenegger. I sensed he was going to kill me at the first chance, so I worked extra hard to hold him down. My Krav Maga instructors would have been proud.

    Then he pulled a move I didn’t expect, and I was in trouble. He was choking the life out of me when some kind of dart smacked into his neck. As he went limp, I flipped him over and stumbled to my feet. Three guys swooped in from behind me. Two of them grabbed the man by the arms and dragged him out, double time. The third man stayed behind and pulled me aside.

    “How did you know to do that?”, he asked.

    “Beats me. I started feeling weird, then I got this tingling behind my ear, and then I jumped him.”

    The man cocked his head and eyed me for a few seconds. “We need to talk.”

    Pulling out a card and a pen, he said, “What’s a number I can reach you at tonight?”

    I hesitated until he spoke again. “You can either tell me, or I’ll find out.”

    Hmmm, sounded non-voluntary. But I was getting curious anyway, so I gave him my mobile number.

    And that’s how the Group found me. Nothing was the same after that.

    • Giulia Esposito

      Keep writing Paul, I love it!

    • Paul Owen

      Thanks, Giulia!

    • Karl Tobar

      I liked it, too

    • Paul Owen

      Thanks, Karl

    • Karl Tobar

      You know, I did the thing that bothers me when others do it. Saying “I like it” or “it was good” but not saying why. Haha, shame on me. The reason I liked it is because it’s a great way to start a story. The idea that he’s going about his everyday life and then BAM tossed into conflict unexpectedly is a great start. And he took action right away and even solved the conflict, making him a likeable and respectable character. Well done, Paul

    • Paul Owen

      Thanks for the extra effort adding this detail, Karl. This story line and character keeps coming to mind, and I’m trying to figure out what to do with him. Your comments are helpful as I’m mulling it over.

    • Karl Tobar

      Make terrible things happen to him. We as readers want to see what he’s made of. 😉

    • Chase G

      Like this… perhaps a bit more detail would aid in the whole piece, but on the whole, very good.

    • Paul Owen

      Thanks, Chase. I’m still trying to figure out how much detail works in these practice pieces, so your comment is helpful for future work

    • catmorrell

      I’m hooked. Where are you posting the rest of this?

    • Paul Owen

      Haha, well, I haven’t written it yet! I did get enough ideas from this character in writing practice (he just wouldn’t leave me alone) that I’m working out a plot line and planning to get a first draft of the story done over the next few months. Stay tuned…

    • catmorrell

      Make sure you let us know when you post it or if you publish it. I have a kindle.

    • R.w. Foster

      I’m hooked, too. I can’t wait for the rest. Ever consider Wattpad?

    • pbwilliams

      I know this is a super old thread, but I was hoping that after all that, that the guy in line was just pulling out his wallet.

  5. kathunsworth

    “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do…Try to be better than yourself.” (John Steinbeck)

    When I read this the other day I made it my theme for my monthly newsletter. I agree Joe we need to inspire and give the reader something to take away. That is my goal, if someone comments that I uplifted them or inspired them, then I have done my job it is very satisfying. Love the post.

    • Steve Stretton

      You have answered the question I posed in my own post. If I can inspire my reader, I have done my job as a writer. While there is more to it than this, this I think is the most important.

  6. Noe

    My reader has gone missing and I’ve lost my will to continue on my current project.

    • Kaylin R. Boud

      No don’t give up!
      Or at least, put it aside for now and start writing something else

    • Davide Aleo

      I agree with Kaylin.. it could be a big shame if you give up.. maybe you only need time to write again! my best wishes

  7. Davide Aleo

    I think that is a great advice. I’ve tried to write what I’ve thought the last time that I wrote something for someone special.

    “I’m looking you, now. I just handed over the pages I have written in the past few weeks, and already I’m wondering if there has been a huge mistake.
    Luckily, the couch where we’re sitting on is comfortable enough to seek refuge, waiting.

    Try to understand me, I have over 23 years but still look at you with awe and fear correcting my writings. Your serious look, your face usually jovial now so concentrated. Your right hand moves distracted, looking for a pen that is going to break down mercilessly mistakes that I beat at
    the computer.

    I feel naked. I’m showing you myself without clothes I wear every day, covered only by that river of words that have poured out in the last days of creative delirium. And then what should I be afraid? I do not have our relationship to me as a shield against any criticism?

    Of course not. If I write to you, there must be a reason. You are impartial. You know I do not write only for yourself, but also for many others. But you also know that nobody in the world will read a line of text that first has been assessed by you.

    Here, good, move the light from the lamp that blinds you. I want to concentrate now. Not grin at me as you usually do, do not be my ally and accomplice now. Teach me to even criticize my work. Here we are. Your ruddy face is opening up in a smile. So spontaneous that would be immortalized.

    No need to comment. That smile has already told me everything. Thank you for giving me a
    little ‘of your time, Dad”.

    • Steve Stretton

      Great, I like the smile. It is a perfect conclusion.

  8. Karl Tobar

    Kurt Vonnegut said, “Write to please one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, your story will get pneumonia.” I always liked that advice.

    • Katie Axelson

      That is a great quote!

    • Joe Bunting

      Kurt Vonnegut was such a dramatic teacher, wasn’t he? Didn’t he once call the semicolon the hermaphrodite of punctuation? I always take his suggestions with a grain of salt, but still, I really like this one. Thanks Karl.

    • Karl Tobar

      I haven’t heard that one Joe but it is so classic him.

  9. Steve Stretton

    I’m not sure how to do this. I write what comes to me. I presume someone will read it, but maybe not. I don’t really know what my readers want. In fact I have very few readers, mainly the members of the writing group I go to. They liked my last exercise so I guess someone likes what I write. But is that enough? I suspect not, I presume you my reader want something, or things I can give you but what are they? So I write this to engage you in my dilemma. Or am I merely being self indulgent in writing this? I realise this is about me, so how do I write to you? What do you like to read about? How do you like to see it presented? What are your pet hates in written work? What do you particularly like? I need to know so I can engage you with my efforts. Thank you.

    • Giulia Esposito

      As a reader I want a lot. If I list it all, as a writer I know I’d look at the list and feel as though it’d all be impossible to accomplish. So what I try to do as a writer (and I’m just an amateur, with no readers) is I try and to write authentically; that is, being true to my story while trying to embracing some things I already know about the craft–like writing with feeling, being consistent with characterization, having a proper ending in mind, not getting carried away with description etc. Then I hope my story and writing are good enough that someone will one day look at it and feel connected to it.

  10. Melissa Frye

    Just what I needed at this juncture. Thanks for the inspiration.

  11. Louise

    Very nice! I liked this site and am passing it on to other writers! Lots to think about here. I appreciate that and will bookmark this!!

    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Louise!

  12. Katie Hamer

    I guess the thing about writing is that the more successfully you write, the more your readership will expect certain topics from you. This could potentially impede the creative process, unless you view your reader as a friend rather than as a boss. You would avoid talking about topics that would bore and alienate your friends wouldn’t you? I guess if you want to write for yourself, be prepared to be the only one who wants to read it!


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