Writing Advice of the Week: Storytellers Write For Themselves

Reading Time: 9 minutes
Fairytale creatures telling stories around a fire under a starry sky.

If a book hollers in the forest, but there are no readers around to hear it, does it make a sound?

When sitting down to write or edit your novel, it’s easy to get lost on a reader-focused tangent. 

    • Will my target readers like this story?
    • Will they identify with the characters?
    • Will the plot keep them turning pages?

In a quick online search, I found hundreds of articles about writing for busy readers, mastering certain styles to engage readers, and plenty of tips and tricks to write for the reader’s needs. And for good reason: Without a reader, the book’s message can’t reach anyone.

And after you’ve spent months or years creating your novel, watching it fall flat as a two-dimensional villain isn’t exactly the pinnacle of any novelist’s career.

But focusing all your energy on what the reader wants or needs is exhausting. And frankly, it’s often not worth the effort, at least not while you’re writing. You simply cannot know exactly how another person will perceive your story. You cannot know their emotional states at the time they select the novel. You cannot know if they’ll identify with the protagonist, if they’ll hate the villain, if they will understand the magic, if, if, if.

But there’s one thing you can know with absolute certainty: Do you, author, like your book?

The first bit of writing advice for this week is to Write Your Way Whole and comes from Kathleen McCleary for Writer Unboxed. In the article, Kathleen shares the importance of writing to fulfill yourself, to grow your own soul, and in the reflective month of December, this bit of advice stands out as particularly important.

What kind of writer do you want to be?

Your experiences, life path, and storytelling style are all as beautifully different from anyone else’s as they could be. Kathleen urges you to write for yourself, “to process, to heal, to grow more fully into yourself,” and I can’t support her message more. Because the stories you write not for readers but for yourself are the ones you’ll ultimately take the most pride in and are the ones with which readers (and editors!) bond most. In effect, they’re the work of the true storytellers of the world. They’re the stories those writerly dreams are made of.

And if you’re going to write the story dreams are made of, it’s best to start with a solid foundation. But, especially during this time of year, ideas can seem in short supply as you’re running around doing the million other items on your to-do list. (And that darn list never includes quiet writing time, does it?) . If you’re in a creativity pickle with your “fickle muse,” check out Keeping The Idea Fires Burning by Mary Kole for Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Mary talks about the real issues that scare off your creativity, and it ain’t writer’s block. At the end of the day, writer’s block is usually a term used when one means “procrastination,” regardless of why you’re procrastinating. So follow Mary’s advice, get to the root of the creativity lull, and unleash the barrage of good stuff to fill those pages.

If your creativity is stifled not because you don’t have enough ideas but too many, consider reading Weighing Story Ideas by Ben Wolverton for MyStoryDoctor. Ben starts by qualifying that an idea alone is not a story. From the idea, one must generate the concept, the premise, the characters, the message. But to move forward with your writing, knowing you have a good idea helps keep things flowing. Ben provides a four-question analysis you can apply to your story ideas to choose the right project to tackle right now.

Now, if you’ve been making progress in your book and you suddenly found yourself stuck, the urge to procrastinate settling heavy on your shoulders, ideas as dry as the Sahara, ask yourself how long it’s been since you’ve checked in with the bad guy.  Colleen M. Story for Writers In The Storm put out an article titled, Story In Trouble: 5 Signs You’re Ignoring Your Antagonist. Colleen’s advice is applicable when the bad guy is a character and when it’s a force or situation, and it may be the advice you need to get yourself out of the muddy middle. Her fourth sign of bad-guy neglect is a universal tip for writing yourself out of a stuck point.

We’ve covered writing for yourself, keeping the ideas coming, evaluating ideas for stories, and addressing your antagonist to get past a stuck point. But if you’re in the self-editing phase, and especially if you’re editing your NaNoWriMo project — which likely means little time away from your manuscript — knowing how to avoid overwriting might actually help you define and reach your “done” point. For that, we have Edie Melson for The Write Editing: What Is Overwriting And Tips To Avoid It. Check out her examples and evaluate whether you may be stuffing words into your story that don’t actually need to be there.

And when you do get to that sweet, sweet done point and your book is off to your editor, it’s time to consider the business side of your storytelling (I know you’re grumbling; me too.) because you still need to pay the bills. Julie Broad for Book Launchers has a no-sugarcoating take in this video, Why You Should Sell Books Direct In 2024. I’m a big fan of going truly indie and selling direct, breaking the race-to-the-impoverished-bottom sales methods of big players like Amazon, this video will get you thinking in the right mindset to cultivate your reader audience and build your writing future.

One of the first pieces of content I recommend to authors starting their platforms to build their audiences is to start a newsletter. And if you don’t already have one, check out S.D. Huston‘s video, Readers For Free: Grow Your Newsletter Now. Shannon reminds you to promote your newsletter, of course, but she also talks through online services to help you find book reviewers, to whom you may offer newsletter signups.

Speaking of signups, get writing advice delivered to your inbox every Sunday by subscribing below.

And as usual, there was a ton more advice shared this week, so peruse the links below.

Happy writing!

▼More Productivity Advice for the Week

▼More Craft Advice for the Week

▼More Business Advice for the Week

We subscribe to more than 180 writing advice sites and gather the best posts for you every single Sunday. You can see all the previous writing advice of the week posts here and subscribe to the RSS feed for this writing advice series here (direct Feedly signup link).

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Fallon Clark is a Vermont-based manuscript development coach and editor serving fiction and creative non-fiction authors. Her writing has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine. Check out her website, FallonEdits.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn or Substack.

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