Mia Siegert, Guest Author
I don’t know whether the majority of people say they write what they want to write for themselves, or whether that’s faux-modesty that many writers feel they need to say to justify smaller (if any) publication records. I’m not saying a writer’s worth is based on publication, but I think that there can be a problem when writers use “writing for myself” as an excuse for their state of success.
However, I have noticed that many writers I’ve encountered through the years (from undergrad, through grad school, and especially now in the emerging stages of my professional career) stick with the same excuse, “I’m writing for myself, not other people.” I’ve noticed a trend that those writers are in the same place that they were ten years ago with little (and often no) improvement whatsoever.
So how is it possible for writers who take their craft very seriously to be stuck in this rut?
Although there probably are many possible answers for that question, I believe one of the main roots stems from narcissism. The term narcissism comes from Greek mythology (which I’ve been obsessed with since I was a kid, for good reasons – Gods with human flaws! But I digress).
For a streamlined background and crash course about the roots of narcissism, in the story of Narcissus a very attractive man was so in love with himself that he burned the affections of many people, including the goddess, Nemesis – who by chance happened to be a very spiteful goddess. She lured Narcissus to a lake where he falls in love with his reflection. Unable to leave the sight of his own face, he starves, and dies. The modern terminology for narcissism revolves around a person’s excessive egotism–egotism such as with an all too familiar sentence, “I’m writing for myself, not my audience.”
There’s only one word to sum up Narcissus’s fate: ouch.
Actually two: mega ouch.
To clarify before I’m crucified, I’m not saying nor suggesting that one should write with the sole purpose of gaining audience approval, but observing that the mentality behind writing for one’s self can be and often is problematic. Those writers with too much self often don’t deal well with criticism, if they can cope with it at all.
Although sometimes the most passionate about their work, they’re by far the toughest to teach. Often, they feel misunderstood (“No, you missed the point of what I was trying to say!”) rather than consider the option that maybe their writing is lacking a key factor that helps clarify the author’s point.
Many times, those writers take critique as a cruel form of bullying, something incredibly personal (“They’re being mean to me!”) It’s completely understandable that writers can become so attached to their writing that their feelings can get hurt when it feels like their work is being torn to shreds. Sometimes, it’s over-sensitivity.
Sometimes, people really do tear writing apart negatively (I’ve noticed a common trend that often the harshest critics are the ones with the least amount of writing knowledge). The point is, the way one deals with critique is critical to a writer’s future successes and ability and willingness to improve. Because, really, who wants to be plagued with being the narcissist?
I think one always needs to keep a sense of her/himself in mind to figure out how to improve and how to stay humble. Writing for one’s self is important in the sense that a writer shouldn’t write specifically for someone else, but if writing for one’s self is used as an excuse to not accept critique and improve, then there’s a problem.
Copyright © 2013 – Mia Siegert. Mia Siegert graduated with an MFA from Goddard College and holds a BA in English from Montclair State University. She won honorable mention in the 2009 MSU English Department Awards in Fiction. Siegert primarily writes literary fiction and contemporary young adult, with some dabbling in commercial fiction and drama. She teaches fiction and memoir to adults and students. To learn more about Siegert’s work, check out her website at www.miasiegert.com or like/follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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