Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
This is one of the big floating hypocrisies of the intersection between artwork and the internet: many writers (myself included, or more prominently, Maria Popova of Brainpickings), make the claim that they write for no one else but themselves…and yet they (we?) publish that work online for the world to see. Many, if they’re lucky, make money off this writing that is “made for no one else but themselves.” What’s the deal with that?
I ask myself this question a lot. I firmly hold that I write for myself. But if that were the case, why wouldn’t I just keep all my writing in a journal somewhere, or a folder on my desktop, rather than creating an entire website to spread them across the internet?
Popova responds to this contradiction during an interview with Tim Ferriss:
Rather than hypocrisy it’s just this very human struggle to be seen and to be understood, which is why all art comes to be. Because one human being wants to put something into the world and to be understood for what he or she stands for and who he or she is.”
That resonates. That writing, art, is about interacting with the world; about participating in the collective human experience. The mass struggle to both understand though we can never fully understand, and be understood though we can never fully be understood.
Popova carries on to relate a similar response from Werner Herzog, where he says that the artist who creates for himself, in public, has no interest in the actual response of the audience, but just that the connection is being made. This hits at least one nail on the head, that the narcissistic personalities are the ones who worry about the perception of their work, thus they end up tailoring their creations for the audience and their response rather than as a vehicle for exploring their own innards. They end up writing, or doing whatever they do, for the audience, and inevitably for praise and recognition, sacrificing autonomy of the process, and thus a degree of, if not all, honesty. This ultimately sabotages the whole project, because the most interesting writing is the most honest.
So I write only for myself, because it’s something that for now, I find tremendous value in. Similar to Popova, I see it as a living record of my thought process. I put it online because I’m not interested in living a mentally isolated life. I want to connect with people on that honest, human level of profound confusion & sublime fascination. That connection is only possible so long as the writing remains deeply honest. Tailoring it to anyone else erodes that possible connection, but keeping it to myself does the same.