Three Ways to Write for Yourself

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
—Cyril Connolly

How do you write honest and compelling content that will change people’s lives? Easy. Write for yourself. Sounds counter-intuitive, but it works.

Write for Yourself
Photo credit: Casey David (Creative Commons)

Writing for yourself will free you from the pressure to impress. It will release you to write what you really need to write — the good, honest material that will truly move people (starting with you).

I wrote about the why of this in a guest post called: “Why You Should Write First for Yourself” If you haven’t read it yet, go check it out. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Done? Great. Now, let’s talk about the how.

How to write for yourself

Writing for yourself is the only way to begin writing, in my opinion. You take your audience into account in the editing and tweaking process. You start, though, by writing for you.

Sometimes, quite frankly, you just need to write for yourself with no aspirations of publishing anything. But in my experience, this is the best way to build an audience. I know. The irony is thick.

Writing for yourself allows you to turn off the internal critic and be more sincere in your writing. It unlocks your passion. And this is attractive to other people.

As a result, some of my best writing has come from writing for myself. If this idea is foreign to you, here’s how to do it:

Examine yourself

The unexamined life is not worth living (or writing about).
—Socrates (parentheses — and slight paraphrase — mine)

What upsets you? What do you find frustrating? What really ticks you off? Take note of that. Free-write. Spend time exploring the why of this. Maybe this bothers other people, too.

Type up a few rants. See what it does for your soul. This is merely an exercise to get you started. If it takes you somewhere, let it.

Call yourself out

Issue a challenge to Yours Truly.

In the safety of anonymity (remember, you’re writing for yourself here), call out some unhealthy or unproductive habit or tendency that you have.

Don’t do it in a self-effacing way. God knows that we creatives don’t need another self-inflicted brow-beating. Do it in a powerful and motivational way.

This is my favorite way to challenge people, by being painfully honest about a personal struggle of my own. Some of my most powerful blog articles were written from this place of dissatisfaction with myself.

Solve your own problem

I do this a lot. It begins with the self-examination. I look at what bugs me — in the world, in our culture, in myself — and then I realize that I probably have the tools to solve that problem. Or at least, I know what the solution is.

Solving problems is, obviously, a lucrative business (look at the self-help section in your local book store, if you still have one, that is). So we have to be careful.

You need to solve a real problem, not just make one up to make money (people actually do this).

Solving your own problem gives your the experience and expertise to help others. You, essentially, write your own testimonial. This makes you more trustworthy. When you say, “I did this and it worked for me” as opposed to,”I think you should do this,” people are more inclined to listen.

Let’s get started

If it’s been awhile since you’ve written just for you (or perhaps you’ve never done this), then I suggest you take a mini writing retreat. Take some time today, grab a notebook and start writing.

This is a workout for your creativity. It’s not Game Day; it’s practice. You may need to unplug from the your blog and other social connections to really make this successful. But it’s worth it.

Best of luck.

Get back to the heart of writing

I firmly believe that writing comes from the heart. But sometimes we lose ourselves in the craft. We become obsessed with people’s affirmation and what critics think.

If you feel more like a wanderer than a leader, it may be time to take a break from the accolades and write just for yourself. You might be surprised by what comes out.

If you need more help, check out my eBook The Writer’s Manifesto. You can get a free copy of it when you sign up for my newsletter.

If you’re new to this blog, you may want to find out about how you can get free updates and follow me on Twitter.

47 thoughts on “Three Ways to Write for Yourself

  1. Jeff, it was a pleasant surprise to type my gmail address into your “subscribe” box and see it appear in the good old days typewriter style typeface. I, too, have been “writing all my life.” I like to write for myself first, but if I am leaving a comment on a blog, I am writing for the blogger. 

  2. Whenever I write for myself, the characters or the subject are revealed to me.  I see whether or not my words express something real.  If it’s forced, then it’s dead; if I can identify with what I’m writing, then it’s very alive.

  3. Exactly why I go through about a journal a month. I don’t like sharing my writing because its my heart and soul. Although things like the movie Freedom Writers really inspire me. I guess if your writing is going to make any impact you eventually share it, but I never get that far. Although, the way my life is headed I am ready to start sharing my dreams again.  Slowly finding courage to face more of my fears and to be who I already am. Thanks for inspiring, challenging, and encourages me through your blogs

  4. This is so good and so TRUE. I keep a private blog and you wouldn’t believe how many edited versions of my midnight rambles end up my most well-read and liked public articles.

  5. Such a great reminder. I find the posts that I write for myself are more authentic and well received by readers. If I try to force a post and write what I think the reader wants to hear it comes across as fake.

  6. This really struck a chord with me. I’ve returned to writing vigorously in recent weeks. What started it all was an idea for a short-short story that I had as the result of musing about something in my own life about which I had strong conflicting feelings.

    I think it also helps to write something that you’d enjoy reading. This may mean not chasing a trend or writing a best-seller, but I think it’s awfully hard to enjoy yourself if you’re writing something that doesn’t feel “natural” to you.

  7. I think you write for yourself by writing what your passionate about, that one thing that you just want to shout to the world. I also thunk by writing about your passion your words and intention will flow
    clearly to the reader.

  8. Great Post Jeff. Yesterday I wrote about my own personal journey with depression and what I had learnt. I ‘wrote it for myself’ as a method of weaving lots of thoughts together.

    It helped me and by the response rate it might just be helping others too. I know that my learning’s may well be different to what others have discovered, but they are mine. 

    They are the hard won insights from the black coal face of personal experience. 

    It’s the difference between Knowing (doing courses, reading books etc) and KNOWING ( been there, done that, got the tear stained T shirt). 
    May your KNOWING become your writing!

  9. OK, here’ s the deal: You are right on, Jeff!

    Always always always, and did I mention always? write for YOURSELF!

    That way you’ll discover all of the other “yous” out there – and if you work hard enough at it, you’ll find enough yous who will pay money for your work that you’ll be able to say “Oui, oui, monsieur!” in answer to the desk clerk at the Ritz Carlton in Paris as he asks if you would like room service.

    OK, I may have let things get a little out of hand there (or maybe not!).

    Excellent work, Jeff!


  10. I’ve never really thought about writing for yourself first, but it really makes sense. Who wants to read your work if you aren’t even writing a subject that interests you?! Thank you for your straightforward but inspirational advice. I will continue to take your advice and hopefully improve my writing skills. Thanks for sharing!

  11. It was affirming to read your post.  I’ve recently started my own blog as an outlet to get “real” writing in while working on a first book.  My post yesterday was definitely one of those things that tick me off!   I laughed when I read your suggestion.  It’s nice to know there are other people that think like me.

  12. Jeff, pleasure to meet you.

    Great post.  It’s liberating to approach output and content the way you’ve described.

    I just discovered your blog and am thrilled.

    Timely content as it relates to stuff I’m working on.

    I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts so, I’m adding you to “read everyday (which really means often) list”

    Thanks so much.


  13. I had a lot to say on this, but I won’t
    (don’t worry… all good things :))

    I’ll just say I struggle with this myself.  I want my readers to know they matter… that it’s not all about me, but that ends up screwing with my message. 

    So, thanks;  great tips!

  14. I had a lot to say on this, but I won’t
    (don’t worry… all good things :))

    I’ll just say I struggle with this myself.  I want my readers to know they matter… that it’s not all about me, but that ends up screwing with my message. 

    So, thanks;  great tips!

  15. This is pretty much the attitude I’ve had ever since I started blogging. Most of my posts are written to myself – things I needed to hear, issues I needed to work through, thoughts that have challenge or encourage me and the crazy thing is – it impacts others. 

  16. Well, I read your guest blog over at Write to Done, and I really enjoyed it. Thanks so much for publishing a follow-up post on the HOW to write for yourself. Another great article.

    Personally, I write fiction. I also write on my blog, but that’s more of my scratch paper to experiment technique with. My fiction work is my canvas, where I create more serious works of art.

    Well, in that fiction work, I try to write the sort of book that I, as an avid reader, would love to get my hands on. If it’s a story idea, character, or plot turn that I as a reader would delight in, well, it’s gonna be in the book that I’m writing. I still hope other people will like those things, too, but it’s more important to me that I write that story I’ve been searching for at the bookstores all these years then to have some stranger’s approval. I think that’s what you’re trying to say in all this. Write what you know and love, and let the rest of the world take care of itself.

    If I’m wrong in that opinion, I’d like to hear it now.

    Anyway, thanks so very much for the awesome quotes (I’m definitely stealing them for later use), and have a great day!

  17. I’m really glad I found this site…so wonderful to read a blog about writing that is written by someone who writes for the love of writing

  18. Hi Jeff, I have been following your blog for quite a while. What I like best about your blog is that you cater to the needs of the impatient readers so well, as in, your posts are concise, but that does not make them any less interesting or empty. They drive home the point and I like the fact that you share your experiences with us here helping us write better, that too in the right number of words. 
    About this post, I just had one more idea to add, I find that when I am emotionally disturbed, writing while I am still in the state of turmoil heals me, as opposed to committing the incident and the emotions surrounding it to memory and summoning them later and building on it. It acts as a form of therapy. I find l that those are the times when I write best. 

  19. I do this all the time.  Very therapeutic.  Boring as heck to anyone else, I imagine, but it’s good for my brain.  🙂

  20. I do this, an its fun and helps me practice, but then I have problems motivating myself to actually write something serious and substantial

  21. I love what you said about writing for yourself first – I am a true believer in this. Thank you for such an inspiring blog post – it’s wonderful! I really wanted to read the article about ‘why you should write for yourself’ – but the link isn’t working – the page is down. Is there anywhere I can read that article? Thanks in advance!

  22. You just inspired the heck out of me. Gonna go pour myself a cup of coffee and get my brain-gears to grinding. Thank you!

  23. I have always had the problem of writing for myself until I finally got fed up and googled how to do so. One of my biggest problems was, I write for me, but I also write for the attention I will get after, so therefore I just wanted to thank you for this article. I have subscribed and I hope to find more inspiring articles such as this. Thank you

  24. I loved this reminder of writing for myself. I haven’t done that in so long I forgot what ti was like- except for journals which are collecting dust. I used to write for me with no expectations of being published. Then I started talking with others who instantly began telling me what I was writing was wrong, and they would not read it.

  25. I am just getting started in the writing craft. I have written two blog posts for two totally different sites one oil and gas industry and one motorcycle. I only really know how to write for myself but so far it has been pretty well received. I have been a photographer for a very long time and I learned a long time ago that no matter how hard you try you can not please everyone as every person has a unique perspective on life as seen through their own eyes. Once I realized that and I started to shoot what really spoke to me on an emotional level I got much better at photography and many many more people liked it. I see writing in much the same way. Be true to yourself because that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind…I think that was Dr. Zeuss that said that. I must agree with him and you. Great advice!! Thanks!!

  26. I’ve been writing for myself. Again. I’ve been absent for quite some time. I shared some things with a handful friends. It was enlightening to get feedback from people that I knew would be brutally honest.

  27. True. When you write for yourself, in most cases you truly like it, so you fill your work with special energetics that is further passed to other people who read it. Amazing feeling.

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