To be accurate, this post should have been titled Of Writing for Myself, but that would have been a sign of vanity and social indecency. Or simply, uncomfortably, personal for someone else. A reason why teenage girls are portrayed as writing diaries in a patronizing fashion (or what was more universally described by Harry of Sally in When Harry met Sally, “dot your i’s with little hearts”) is because there is something about writing that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. There is the soul voyeur in all of us. We don’t just like the straight-forward, confessional writing of people. We also like to hunt for and build up a version of them in their fiction or dramatic writing and most of all, in their poetry. When I speak of writing for myself, there are two selves that I talk about. One, literally me writing for myself, as if it were an internal conversation between the same person. The second, writing my self, a self that I wish to communicate and know and share with you, with the hope that what I want you to see is what you actually see.
In a recent blog post featured on Freshly Pressed, Lily Ellyn of Such Small Hands writes about the crisis she felt in her writing career after an article of hers that went viral did not bring the rewards she expected. What Tennessee Williams called “The Catastrophe of Success” is found in her post, both practical and creative. Not only did she not get what she expected out of her success, but she also almost felt like giving up because she no longer felt what she wrote corresponded creatively with her success. We use strange, unpleasant words for success in the blogosphere, viral and traffic. I don’t fancy traffic in the real world, and viral even less. Were these words chosen to signify their respective phenomena in an attempt at subversive delight? None of us who write, however old or young, ever conceived the thought of writing purely on the basis of these statistical terms. We want to be read. We want to be read well enough so that we might be able to make a living of it. Further than that, we want to be read well enough to be a potential classic – universally relevant and universally reaching. Though these wants may seem to increase exponentially, they are all grounded in the same thing – that someone out there read what I had to say and found it to be of value to them in some way.
Whether this out there is 1 or 1 million, is anybody’s guess. When I think of the unread books sitting on my shelf, classics, contemporary hits and underrated pieces, I think that though my having bought that copy might count as a statistic, my not having read it will therefore be a misrepresentation of whatever are the total statistics of that book and its author. But, that does not make a bit of difference to the author or their reputation. Whether I read my The Pickwick Papers or not, will not make even an infinitesimal dent on a reputation and legacy as great as Charles Dickens.
Of course, these statistics are an instant boost of enthusiasm to write more. If Off Course did not get four followers six months ago, I may not have been writing here today, even though I made a promise to myself then that I would keep writing come what may. However many walls of indifference or winds of change that blow in a direction against mine and cut me off from all that matters in the real world, I would keep writing, for I would only be writing for myself. I felt some of Ms.Ellyn’s crisis with my recent success here. My success also coincided with NaBloPoMo. With such new-found attention, I found myself at a disconnect with what I wrote, and who I wrote it for. Before that, it had been a small community, where I knew a little bit about each reader because I always checked their blogs out. Now, suddenly I had this audience who were interested in reading what I had to say, but I knew nothing of them. I felt the impulse to take a break, but because I had begun NaBloPoMo already, I could not. I felt slightly exposed, slightly worried, about whether I had let something out, that will make my self appear in a way I did not want it to.
Most of all, it felt ungrateful not to write in order to please. I felt I had a responsibility, that this blog, though a small, but significant part of my life, deserved more of my efforts. But, all of this died down and went back to normal soon. My readership has only slightly increased and a very small number of my subscribers read my posts. I soon went back to writing for myself, even occasionally letting my self out, such as yesterday’s post on my writing fears, or the one on sentimentality. I’ve realised, a book bought isn’t a book read, a following isn’t an eternal commitment towards everything I write. That, essentially, statistics matter but only a little. The rest is pleasing yourself, writing yourself, recognising what it is to be human when being you and that someone might see it too.