Writing at first for anyone but yourself

Here’s writing advice from TS Eliot that has had the most profound impact on my life:

My advice to “up and coming writers” is, don’t write at first for anyone but yourself. It doesn’t matter how many or how few universities one goes to, what matters is what one learns, either at universities or by oneself. My favourite essay, I think, is my essay on Dante, not because I know much about Dante, but because I loved what I wrote about. The Waste Land is my most famous work, and therefore perhaps will prove the most important, but it is not my favourite.

— TS Eliot, response to a fan

I use to follow that advice to the core, until recently when I changed the “don’t write at first” bit to “never writing for anyone” but myself. I know that sounds selfish. But it’s got more to do with my expectations than selfishness.

What I’ve observed is that when you’re writing for others you are trying so hard to impress. Craving for likes, shares, positive comments that validate your actions, your writing. But for what?

What happens when nobody likes, shares or leaves a single comment? Ah, now you think you’re probably not good enough. No?

I’m amused when some of my friends share their YouTube videos or Blog posts asking for feedback. Not that anything’s wrong with it but you honestly wouldn’t give a damn if I say, “hey, listen… I think you should be writing shorter sentences and perhaps focus a little on transitions.” Why? Because the other 99 people you shared with showered praises on the tremendous effort that you have put in!

Keyword — on the effort that you have put in. Not the quality of work. I still don’t understand how the heck would that be useful? The whole purpose of seeking feedback is to improve. Or so I thought. Nonetheless, try being honest with this person seeking your “thoughts” and you’ve voluntarily created your worst enemy. (Prepared for the “stink-eye” virtual or otherwise.)

All this feeds back into my writing and why I don’t write for anyone. Not saying that’s what everyone should do. But it’s what works for me. I learn the best from repetition, self-analysis and doing it all over again. The hard way is the best way. At least for me.

Of course, at times, I’m way off but that’s okay. I don’t need anyone to tell me whether my work is “great” or “trash.” I can tell.

My advice to budding writers is to just show up and write. Often. Every day. Or whenever you can. If you want to seek feedback, ask that one person (instead of a 100) who isn’t afraid to trash you. But wean away from seeking feedback as quickly as you can. If you don’t, over time you will find yourself writing (or just about anything you’re trying to get good at or are passionate about) for just this person. To impress. To seek validation. And to feel good.

The sooner you get off of your training wheels, the better. At the end of the day, the best writing is always written for the audience of one. You.

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