Part 5 in an ongoing series based on Jen's Enchanted 15 workshop.
There isn't necessarily a contradiction between writing for yourself and writing for others, but there is a difference. And you need others in order to be a good writer.
One day, the summer after I turned 14, I sat at a picnic table in a park eating a sandwich and told a 16-year-old girl that I liked to write stories.
"Really?" she replied. "I do too, but usually when I tell people that they think I'm weird."
Five years later Dernhelm and I are very close, despite the fact that she left for college 3 years ago and I left a year after that. I don't think I'm off the mark to say that it was writing that brought us together. There was a year or two of my life when I spent just about every second of free time either writing or emailing Dernhelm about what I was writing. (Once I told the Cobbler that Dernhelm and I used to email each other sometimes 2 or 3 times a day and he said that we abused email by forcing it to be what the telephone is for most teenage girls.) If you looked you could probably still see Dernhelm's fingerprints all over my works-in-progress. And in turn I sent her pages and pages of suggestions for her novels. (Seriously. She once said that I was more enthusiastic about her work than she was.) And despite our admiration for each other we can both be frank when it happens that a particular passage is not quite up to par and needs rewritten or scrapped entirely.
Now I also have a few other good writerly friends, and the Cobbler is among them. One of the first conversations we ever had was about writing, and he listens to me chatter about my novels as patiently as Dernhelm does. He sent me the first chapter of one of his novels once, and I obligingly laid into it. Then one day he read the beginning of one of my novels and said, "Would it be better if you did this?" and I said, "Oooohhh, now I'm going to have to rewrite the whole thing!" Because of course he was right. A few months later I'm still working on rewriting the whole thing. The Cobbler has this uncanny knack of finding exactly what dissatisfies me most about my work and pointing it out so that I can no longer pretend that the reader won't care and I can just ignore the flaws.
Friends who write are amazing. Find them. And the ones who irritate you the most are probably going to be the ones who do you the most good.
[here I pause in thought]
Now that I think about it, Writing for Others is really the reason I'm doing this whole Enchanted 15 thing. Because one of my favorite bloggers suddenly started saying, "Hey, you should write every day." And I fail epicly at that, but I do at least come back here every week or two or three and say, "Here I am, writing about writing, at least that's a start, right?" And one of these days the knowledge that you all know about my novels is going to motivate me to do something with them, lest all five of you start harassing me no end. (That's how my sister got me to finish my first novel; she asked me if I was done yet Every. Single. Day.)