On Writing for the Self by Carly Svamvour

I think the first draft of every story ought to be for the self; the writer knows what his own muse is giving. That does not mean it should stay that way. What the writer needs to ask himself is ‘who is going to be reading the story at the end of the day?’ Even if it is just one person – in the case of a report to the boss, or a love letter to a sweetheart – even so, the writer must keep the reader in mind. The work is going to be read and it is the reader that will assess the value of the written piece.

In most scenarios, the writer intends to do one of three things with the completed work;

* send it to an editor for consideration in a publication

* enter it in a competition

* self-publish it in a newsletter, magazine or pass it around to family and friends as a gift.

No matter which stone of intention the writer holds, it is important to keep in mind that the story be interesting to the reader.

Even if the writer is truly writing for himself – intends to keep the stories as private memoirs, study material, or just uses the journalizing as a form of therapy, he should strive to make it a smooth, interesting read. Think of all the journals you have kept; think of how you have come across something that seems dull and uninteresting, and skipped that part when you’ve read your own journal a couple of years later.

Writers do not become writers in order to write to themselves. We are egotistic, aggressive beasts who want our readers to love us. In order to do that we must find ways to keep their eyes on our pages. Even if the subject material the writer has chosen for the work is interesting to himself and a handful of others, he should strive to make it interesting.

If a story, for instance, carries a strong theme that interests no one but himself and a peer-group, then the story won’t do as well, sales-wise. One writer may have a particular passion for insects and flavour his stories with scientific news, fact, argument and descriptions of the little beasts. If that writer wants a wide readership, then he must make sure that he makes it interesting and comprehensible to all readers. A ‘boy-meets-girl’ story, for instance, could lose the reader’s interest if he throws in just a little too much about the species of insects, their biological names and mating habits. What he might think about doing is using the factual information to carry the love story along. He could have the couple discussing the subject together, one teaching the other, or perhaps introduce some conflict having to do with differing opinions.

A story can fail if the writer has been just a bit too heavy on the details of his own particular interests. Some crime stories are discarded by readers after the first few paragraphs simply because the writer is an ex-cop who has over-loaded his story with police procedure. There is just not enough dialogue, description and story to interest a general audience.

The really clever storyteller will have his readers put the piece down only after every word has been read. That reader will have learned at least five things about a subject he knew nothing about before he read the story and still feel he has enjoyed a good yarn about a boy that meets a girl. In my opinion, no one writes for his or her self. Even if the writer has absolutely no intention of sharing a piece with anyone, there is always that silent watcher – call it the ‘higher-self’, if you like. The writer always hopes someone will read the work eventually, even if it is just one other person.

It is for this reason that a good writer always take care to make a smooth, interesting read for others.

Carly Svamvour, Toronto, Canada - wildcity@vif.com.

Author Bio:

Carly is a writer who lives in the west end of Toronto, Canada. Her poems, short essays and short stories have appeared in newspapers, anthologies and books in Toronto. You may see her work online at Wild City Times, Twelfth Planet, PoetsCanvas, Pedestal Magazine, Pip Tips, Wynterblue Thunder and Mocha Memoirs. Carly also constructs crossword puzzles for several print magazines in the U. S. and Canada.

She facilitates a writing workshop at the High Park Public Library in Toronto and also hosts two online writers’ forums:

Magazine & Writers’ Workshop

PEDESTAL MAGAZINE – A Writer’s Forum http://www.thepedestalmagazine.com/Secure/Forum/.

Copyright Carly Svamvour 2003

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