I wrote a post last Friday about the Dickens Schism, where his most critically acclaimed book, best selling book, and the book he loved the most, were all different. Which drew the question, what criteria matters the most? Critical acclaim, popularity, or self-fulfillment?
I asked you all to discuss your opinions in the comments of that post, and I said I'd share my answer today. So here it is!
I was surprised to see that all (or most, depending if new comments have arrived by the time this post gets published) of the comments wanted popular acclaim. Because, that is my answer as well.
It's funny. I thought a lot of people would put self-fulfillment as their answers because they write for themselves, etc. etc. But I do think, for most people, the honest answer is that they write because of the readers. And that answer holds true for me as well.
Let's just do a little process of elimination.
Why not write for yourself?
Because, as Michael so smartly pointed out in the comments, "[if] you're just writing a book for you, don't bother publishing." It's on point if you think of it, and doesn't need much more talking about. It's almost unarguable: if your main purpose in writing is for yourself, don't publish. I'd like to hear an argument about how that statement wouldn't hold true because I can't think of any!
Why not write for critics?
This is a tougher one because you can indeed wish to publish for critical acclaim. And authors have done that: think James Joyce and his Ulysses. I'd be stretching to say that that book is incredibly popular amongst those not pursing English degrees or publication ;) Some writers do indeed write for critical acclaim, to explore and invent new ways to use language and words. And it is to them that writers owe much of their knowledge in prose and literary techniques.
But in the end, most writers, in fact the vast majority of writers, write for the readers. If they want critical acclaim, it might be easier to publish in a literary magazine instead of trying to get a Big 5 publisher which might not want to risk publishing a book of a new style. Yet most writers strive for Big 5 publishers, or self-publishing, any way to reach masses of readers.
I, personally, have a story to tell. Something to say. Because, as Maya Angelou said, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." And I think that quote is so, so true.
It is due to this agony that writers go through years and years of rejection, of typing, of revising, of little hope. I think we many times underestimate just how insane writing truly is: years of voluntary pain for a goal that may never come.
But at the end of the darkness, it's not really self-fulfillment that's driving us forward. If it was, we wouldn't be striving for publication. For most of us, it isn't critical acclaim (or at least, solely critical acclaim - because who wouldn't like being called the new Hemingway?) that drives us on. It's too much of a niche to hold on to. It's the masses, the large populations, the millions of readers, that push us along. It's the idea of having a voice in this world, of having an impact, of being heard. It's the idea of having your ideas be spread to other minds instead of bottled up in your own.
So, for me, it is mostly about the readers. Because, yes, I wouldn't dare publish or write a book that I hate, nor do I want to be laughed at for my prose. But I do want big sales: not because of the money, and I mean that. It's because that means many, many people have heard what I have to say. They've read my story. And hopefully, it had an impact.
How about you guys? What would you want?