“I’m afraid,” I told my professor as I toyed with the straw of my bubble tea. The café wasn’t crowded, but I kept my voice low, as if we were discussing our darkest secrets.
“That’s normal for writers,” she replied. “But what scares you, exactly?”
My answers tumbled out like gumballs. “That I’ll never write. Or that people will hate my writing. Do you read the negative reviews for your books?”
My professor shook her head of dark hair. “I try not to let it get to me, because I know my books won’t be for everyone.”
She taught comparative studies — Literature and the Self — in addition to being an established author, having just published her third novel. A review copy sat in front of me on the table.
“How do you stay sane while you’re drafting?” I asked. “I mean, how do you get past all the…noise of worrying people won’t like it?”
She held up a finger and grabbed the copy of her book, pulling a Sharpie from her purse. After scribbling something on the cover page, she slid it back across the table. I stared at the message.
Write for one reader.
“Who do you write for?” I asked.
To be honest, I don’t remember her answer. But I do remember the one that bubbled up inside me when I asked myself the same question: “I write for my younger self.”
Everything I had written up to that point had been a love letter to my childhood — magic, madness, mystery, romance, adventure, humor, thought-provoking conversations. I had imbued my stories with the same elements that had captivated me when I was a teen lying in the grass in the summer sun, holding a book above me as I tried not to nap.
I wanted to write something she would devour in one sitting.
It’s hard not to care what other people think. Early on, when I sat down to write, I’d often become paralyzed with fear, imagining the invisible stares of thousands digging into me, judging me. My fingers trembled over the keys at the thought of being boring or cliché or offensive or shallow. I doubted every single sentence I wrote. It was like living in a padded room of my own making, the sterile environment sucking all the color and joy out of creating.
My professor’s advice opened a door to an entirely different room, one where my imagination didn’t feel stifled. Instead, this room was lined with windows that looked out on vibrant landscapes I could call my own. Possibilities. Freedom. A doorway to a universe of my creation that someone else might stumble upon and find themselves at home.
You can’t please everyone. That’s easy enough to see in the one-star reviews of your favorite books. But if you write for one reader and forget the rest, the stories you tell are bound to resonate with kindred spirits who are eagerly awaiting your words.
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