How To Write For Yourself First (And Still Get Paid)

    writefor yourself first

    I’ve been writing and blogging for so long that I’m tempted to forget a crucial truth to success. Maybe you have, too.

    What’s that truth?

    You need to write for yourself first and second for your audience.

    For those of us who write for money or to change the world, this can be admittedly tough. But it is the only way that you can be true to your art — the only way that your writing can have the impact you dream of.

    Writing for a response can be a great way to hone your skills as a writer — to find out what your audience wants and how to provide. It can help you make a living out of our writing. But before you start worrying about building an audience or platform, you need to write for yourself.

    Ironically, this is the best way for you to serve your audience.

    Here are three reasons why writing for yourself is essential to success:

    1. It releases you from the temptation to entertain.

    You are not a comedian. You are a writer. You create prose to challenge, compel, or convert. But you don’t write to entertain (If you do, feel free to skip this post).

    If you are truly communicating — and not merely entertaining — you need to challenge people. Which means making them uncomfortable. Which means sometimes bucking the system and pushing the status quo.

    How can you do that if you’re constantly worried about pleasing everyone?

    You can’t. If you are to write what you need to write, you must free yourself from the limitations of what your audience expects. You must break off the bondage of an audience — at least for a moment — to craft something that will truly make a difference.

    Trust me, your audience will thank you. (Some day.)

    2. It allows you to be honest and transparent in your writing.

    People naturally gravitate towards authenticity. Conversely, they resist anything (or anyone) that seems disingenuous.

    By writing from the heart — and not for the impact or the profit — you will win true fans, a tribe that will defend you and champion your cause. All because you bore your scars and chose to be yourself.

    It’s not easy, but it’s necessary to making a real connection with your audience. And it’s hard to be yourself if you’re constantly trying to impress or entertain.

    Choose to be authentic; it’ll feel more natural for you, and it will cause your readers to let their guards down.

    Again, they will thank you for it.

    3. It gives you a chance to communicate your unique message.

    Face it. It’s tempting to try to write like Leo Babauta or Chris Brogan or even Seth Godin. (It is for me, anyway.)

    But we already have those guys. What we’re missing is you. We need your voice.

    And if you’re writing to impress or entertain or even emulate, we may lose that crucial piece in your writing — the distinctiveness of you.

    There is a story that only you can tell. It is your story alone. And you begin to tap into by being yourself, by writing first for you. The paradox of all this, of course, is that the truer you are to your voice and message, the more you will attract a true tribe of followers committed to you.

    Do you write for yourself or others? Why?

    About the author


      Jeff Goins is a full-time writer who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Join his FREE training and fInd out The 3 Most Profitable Ways to Make a Living Writing Today. He practices in public every week on his award-winning blog His new book, Real Artists Don't Starve, is now available. Learn more at

    • Kim says:

      Very true. I’ve been having difficulties for a long time getting any decent writing done. I recently realized what the problem was, and this was it. I wasn’t writing for me. Part of it is the saying “write what you know”. See, what I know well enough to write well is far from the stuff I WANT to write about or read about. So, I’ve made it a goal, to practice, research, and learn the ins and outs of the topics I enjoy, so that way, I really can write for me.

      Thank you for this post.

    • I agree with your Alec Robbins: The Blog, excellent post.

    • This is an interesting post. I read in On Writing Well by William Zinsser that he recommends to always write for yourself. He says that the best writing comes from writing for yourself first.

    • AIEEE 2012 says:

      I agree with Scott – this is a great post. Thanks for the reminder about why we should be doing this.

    • Jeff Goins says:

      great technique, marvin!

    • Marvin says:

      Years ago I took a writing course from a local pro. His business was writing articles and was very successful. One piece of sage well worn advice he offer his students was to develop as style that was conversational. His rationale for this was simple, a conversational style can fit virtual any situation. It can be informal or formal, cheeky or serious.

      The idea is that if you imagine writing if you were talking to another person, it will automatically be in a voice that is your own. At the same time in a conversation, you would also take into account, who you are speaking to, or in this case, writing for, the theoretical reader. Just think of them as the friend you’re talking to over coffee, he said.

      I’ve found that this approach works pretty well for me. It helps me to work through an outline pretty quickly because it’s easy to imagine just telling my story to a friend. Naturally you don’t write as you would converse directly, but in principle keeping that conversational tone as your write helps tremendously to keep the ideas and words flowing.

      It’s one technique where you really can write for yourself and still have the reader relate, as if you were talking directly to them.

    • Jeff, great post. Some of my best posts (in my opinion) started with writing for me. If I’m answering my own question or taking off from an inspirational spark, it just flows, it’s real, and it’s hopefully more interesting. While I’m also trying to answer other questions, I first have to answer my own. Hopefully, my writing stirs others to take their own steps to find answers too.

      • Jeff Goins says:

        Mine, too. Thanks for sharing, Marci. Here’s to changing the world with the written word.

    • I’m going to suggest an additional point for your list. T.S. Elliot once wrote: “When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost… and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.” One problem that first writers face is the horror/delight of a multi-dimensional blank canvas. As Elliot suggests; without restriction, their writing lacks focus and direction. By setting yourself a task to write something that you’d like to read, barriers are instantly deployed. You know what you like and, most importantly, you know what you don’t like. Immediately, infinity is given boundaries and brought under control.

      • Jeff Goins says:

        Thanks, Adrian. All art needs a canvas to contain it.

    • China Rose says:

      Jeff I’m feeling like this whole topic breaks down into two camps, those who write what they hear from outside voices and those who write what they hear from inside voices. Ultimately pay dirt, the kind where you mine gold comes with original work. By the time you find your niche you’ll have followers who are intrigued even if they agree or not. To get there a writer may have to do some digging and expend quite a lot of courage. Let down a few hearts (= break w/expectations) to lift a lot of spirits (= inspire millions), I like to say. It is in our nature to find and seek sameness to avoid loneliness but reality is not so neat for true artists of any medium. My fortune cookie says, “you can be trusted” so there ya go!! Thx for the forum. Aloha ~ China Rose

      • Jeff Goins says:

        Wise words… even if they’re endorsed by a fortune cookie! Thanks for sharing.

    • Jean says:

      I’ve always been big on writers finding their own voice. I think for some it takes a long time to be able to have their own voice in writing and make it work for them, while others it seems to come almost naturally. Most of my writing has been for school papers since I am still a student but even then I still feel like I have my own voice, and even though I am giving an assignment, I make it work the way I want to.


      • Jeff Goins says:

        Thanks for sharing, Jean. I like what you said about writing voice. Admittedly, I am still finding my own.

    • Kyla says:

      I learned this one the hard way.

      Every time I tried to write brilliant work and impress my teacher, boss, or parent, it came out all wrong. But when I wasn’t even trying, when I just sat down and WROTE what I thought would work best for what I wanted, I blew their minds. Seriously, I can’t tell you how often I got impressed looks from people on how great my work was…when I wasn’t trying.

      It always struck me as ironic. When I wanted to blow them away, nothing happened. But when I didn’t try, boom. I somehow managed the impossible. Go figure.

      Anyway, thank you so much for the beautiful article. It was very encouraging. I’ve let my writing fall by the way-side lately, because of some romantic entanglements, but I’m ready to jump back on the bandwagon. I really needed this article right now. It is sure to help me getting started again.

      Have a great day, and happy writing!

      • Jeff Goins says:

        You’re welcome. It’s a paradox, for sure. Thanks for sharing your experience, Kyla.

    • Kenley Bel says:

      I am devoted to my writing, finally. I needed this article, these words. Thank you.

    • Very true. I agree with it. In my blog, I always write for myself. I always thought that if ever I feel that I’m only writing for someone else and not for me, then its time to stop writing. Right now, its still purely mine and I enjoy writing so much.

      • Jeff Goins says:

        Good for you. That’s a good place to be.

        • Raynoch says:

          Play ifonratmive for me, Mr. internet writer.

    • Thank you so much for this. I agree about the blogging habit. We get used to immediate feedback and a desire to entertain. This is keeping me from the real work of writing the book. I tend to edit as i go, I enjoy the process but that is slowing me down to nearly no movement at all.
      Thanks for this article!

      • Jeff Goins says:

        You’re welcome, Susie. Thanks for reading. Best of luck on the book!

    • Thank you very much for writing this! I absolutely agree. No one should want to sound like anyone else. It can’t be authentic, and takes away from who you are.

      I think for writers, in general, this has always been an issue–a conflict. It stems from confidence and feeling you have something worth saying that no one else can say quite like you.

      I know I’ve struggled with it and even after 10 years of writing professionally, I still have moments when I’m tempted to sound like what I believe other people want me to sound like. That’s when I step back and say, hey, whoa Jackie, where’s this going exactly!? And I take a deep breath and become myself again.

      It’s a process, this writing business. I love it, but no one ever said it’d be easy.

      • Jeff Goins says:

        Well said, Jackie. The problem with trying to sound like someone else is that you rob us of your unique voice. We already have Stephen King or Agatha Christie (random examples, I know). What we’re missing is YOU.

    • A person reads a blog post filtered by their own lens of experience. That is why I agree that it is important to write your yourself first, not for your audience. Writing for yourself means communicating something unique to who you are. Trying to write for an audience is like playing God and that is way too much responsibility. We will never know or understand fully how what we write resonates with people. We just get a glimpse in the comment box!

      • Jeff Goins says:

        Amen, Shelly. And that glimpse is usually like looking thru an obscure glass. Keep up the good work.

    • Ruth Zive says:

      It’s hard to balance the benefits of 100% authenticity with the allure of pay. When you write/blog to generate income, you have no choice but to be mindful of your readers and prospective clients. However, I don’t think that the two are mutually exclusive. The true magic takes place when writing for yourself also generates material that will benefit your readers.

    • Hey Jeff,

      You have shared an interesting perspective and I partially agree with what you are saying. Writing for yourself is indeed the only way to really create your unique writing style. However I don’t believe that a writer should totally take their audience out of the equation. Yes, it is all about the author’s perspective but if that writer has already built a loyal readership, there are certain limitations that need to be imposed.


      • Jeff Goins says:

        Such as what, Daniel?

        • Limitations as far as consistency is concerned. One example is the writing style, which I mentioned in my above comment. As a writer, you might at a certain point decide to take a different direction. And although there is nothing bad in that, you can’t just turn 180 degrees without giving a damn about your audience, just because you feel like it. It doesn’t sound right to me.

          I as a reader am reading a certain blog because of the content, the way it is presented and the emotion it leaves me with. If the author writes for himself only and one day decides that he wants to jump into something a little bit different, then I’m not sure if I will still be a fan after the change. Not the best policy in my opinion.

          Just my two cents here. 🙂

          • Jeff Goins says:

            That’s good, Daniel. I would never advocate for 180 degree turn without counting the cost of losing your readership. All I was advocating for was that it’s important to write for yourself. Maybe not always. But definitely not never, either.

            As with most things worth doing, balance is necessary.

            One caveat to what you’re saying: Sometimes, I think it’s completely necessary for a writer to jump ship if she finds herself heading in a direction that has nothing to do with her passion, regardless of whether or not it pays the bills.

            There’s a reason we writers are sometimes accused of being a fickle bunch: it’s true. Moreover, it’s true, because that’s what the world needs from artists — spontaneity, quirkiness, passion.

    • Writing to yourself may also help you to tackle issues that really bothers you. Besides, you are not the only one who may suffer from those issues. There are many others who are worried about them. And this is how tou can have an audience, that’s people who share the same worries as you.

      Thank you for this great article.

    • kapila says:

      hey Jeff,

      great post. great reminder.

      It NEVER works when I get caught up trying to write for others. Really. I can be moved to write by the problems and inspiration I see in others, but when I write with any concern of what others might think or say, nothing worthwhile ever comes out.

      I think this is a HUGE part of creative liberation… to just get over the mental concepts of how anything should be. That’s actually why I named my blog justgetoutoftheway…to help me remember!


      • Jeff Goins says:

        Awesome, Kapila. Thanks for sharing! Good reminder to me to “get out of the way”!

    • Ryan says:

      I agree that it’s important to be true to ourselves. But, I think there’s a thin line here. In “Writing With Style,” (which you suggested – hehe), Trimble says, “Unfortunately, his [the novice writer] problems are deeply compounded by his tendency to be self-oriented. The result is this: his natural tendency as a writer is to think primarily of himself and thus to write primarily for himself.” The whole page (15) is great. He describes genuine writing as involving “one person earnestly attempting to communicate with another. Implicitly, then, it involves the reader every bit as much as the writer, since the success of the communication depends solely on how the reader receives it.”

      So, yes, we need to be passionate about what we’re writing about and authentic for sure, but we cannot ignore the fact that the reader, our audience, is at least 50% of the equation. We can’t expect people to be interested in conversations we’re having with ourselves; we must write with them in mind. Otherwise, just keep a diary and put it under your pillow.

      Also, I believe entertaining people can be just as effective at getting readers to respond as making them uncomfortable.

      What say ye, good sir?

      • Jeff Goins says:

        If that works for you, Ryan, more power to you.

        I, however, am quite convinced that writing constantly for an audience will drain me of my creative energy. I need times of refreshment — journaling times, if you will.

        It’s not that I never write for an audience; it’s that I believe solitude and reflection are essential to building one’s craft. Otherwise, you run the risk of becoming a superficial writer.

        That’s my opinion, of course. You’re welcome to disagree. All the best to you.

        • Ryan says:

          Well, that’s a pretty big distinction! One that I completely agree with. Writing for yourself (literally), to practice the art of writing is essential. Times of refreshment are necessary. That wasn’t really what I was getting from this piece, though. Thanks for the clarification, Jeff.

          • Jeff Goins says:

            It’s an exercise that I practice with every piece I write. I begin writing for myself, and sometimes it stays that way — as a little refreshment of your truly. Other times, it turns into a piece that I share with the world. When I do this with the right motives and perspective, it always leads to my more powerful writing. (I don’t always do it, though.)

      • Hi Ryan,

        I had the same question because I’m also a fan of Trimble and know that part of his book well. Something that confused me is that William Zinsser in “On Writing Well” says writers should always write for themselves. I’m still trying to figure out how to rectify these two viewpoints.

        • Jeff Goins says:

          This sounds about right — two well-respected writers saying something that completely contradicts the other. Welcome to art, fellas.

    • Hi Jeff,

      This is an interesting post. I read in On Writing Well by William Zinsser that he recommends to always write for yourself. He says that the best writing comes from writing for yourself first.

      But then I’ve also heard Jon Morrow say that you can’t force people to be interested in what you are writing about. The easiest way to get them to read is to write what they want to read about.

      What are you thoughts? How would you bridge these two schools of thought?

      • Martyn says:

        I think the best results happen when writing to yourself coincides with what your audience wants to read.

        This whole debate extends outside the blogosphere into all types of prose and copywriting. David Ogilvy said his best direct response campaigns occurred when he wrote about stuff he’d really experienced and believed in. His target market could relate 100% to that sort of copy. Same in online 2011.

        Jon and Jeff aren’t disagreeing, Joseph. 😉

        • Jeff Goins says:

          thanks, martyn.

          @joseph – how about this… writing for yourself makes you a better writer, even when you don’t share it. so that when it comes time to write something that requires a response, people will listen.


          • @Jeff I didn’t have an answer for this; I also happen to love your answer. Any kind of writing is good for improving your writing style. Even if it doesn’t the desired response, you’re still getting better. If you spend some time writing for yourself, you’ll enjoy it and improve at the same time. Great answer.

            • Jeff Goins says:

              amen. thanks, joseph. sounds like you’re on the right track. i HOPE I am.

    • I enjoyed reading your post. I especially liked your #1 — that writing for yourself releases you from feeling the need to entertain. I’ve found myself spending/wasting literally *hours* on one paragraph because I’m writing it for a “fictional” reader who I’ve imagined, that will supposedly be reading what I write. When I center myself and, like you say, write for myself, I can write a whole paragraph in just a few minutes. And, that paragraph I’ve written for myself will be 10 times better than the one I spent hours on…

      • Jeff Goins says:

        thanks for sharing!

      • Ryan says:

        I just like that this person’s “name” is “sell textbooks.”

        • Jeff Goins says:

          Truth be told, that was actually my birth name. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I changed it. (Unfortunately to a surname that rhymed conveniently with “groins” — I should’ve left it alone, I suppose.)

    • Eileen says:

      Great thoughts, Jeff. I write for myself, but at the same time I want to inspire others. Still learning how to find the balance between writing for myself and yet offering information that others can apply to their lives and grow from as well.

    • Cyberquill says:

      I write mainly for myself. I can tell by the number of hits on my blog posts.

    • Joy says:

      I’ve been struggling with this so much lately. My favorite forms of writing are poetry, journaling and listing.
      How do you reach anybody with those very personal genres?

      I decided that maybe my love of listing might be an obsession others enjoyed/suffered from. I had been doing a creative experiment with a friend over the past year where he prompted me to create a fun list rather than a To Do list or a Bucket list (which tended to make me feel guilt whenever I wasn’t accomplishing anything on them).

      I recently decided – what the heck – just go ahead and start a blog where you share those fun lists with others. Maybe other people are feeling the same guilt and shame with their own To Do lists and want to just have a little fun!

      I don’t have any followers. But (at least right now), I’m not really hurt by that. It feels so liberating to express myself in the way I want to and to let it out into the world. Whether it’s accepted by others isn’t of consequence; what matters is that I’ve accepted myself!

      Thanks for this post. It adds confirmation to my new philosophy!

      • Jeff Goins says:

        I love the liberation you’re feeling, Joy. Keep being who you are!

    • doug_eike says:

      I agree with this philosophy as far as the pure content is concerned. If you write for yourself, the piece will hit home with a percentage of your readers. This never fails, but on the Internet, the need to search-engine optimize complicates the matter. Every natural word that you replace with a keyword diminishes the work and takes you further from writing for yourself. It’s a difficult but necessary balancing act that makes all good writers cringe. Thanks for the insights!

      • Jeff Goins says:

        Indeed. It’s a new tension for writers, for sure.

    • Ed Penney says:

      Godd post….but shouldn’t we be writing to challenge and entertain our audience simultaneously? Not easy, but there’s the rub!

      • Jeff Goins says:

        Hi Ed. No, I don’t think so. First, you need to write what you must write. If you do that, people will listen. If you write first for an audience, you may never have the influence you desire, because you’ll be tempted to appease, not challenge.

        • Ryan says:

          I don’t necessarily think that’s true. If we know that people are going to read what we’re writing, whether we’re writing “for ourselves only” or with them in mind, the temptation will always be there.

          • Jeff Goins says:

            Right. That’s why you need to write some stuff that never gets read.

    • This is the road I might travel. I’ve been wondering whether I want to make art for an audience or for the sake of art itself. Put down in words the way you did, I know that I need to do it for myself first and for all. Bummer if not every piece resonates with my audience, if they read it at all. Thanks for this point of view.

      • Jeff Goins says:

        The paradox here, Esther, is that the more you do this, the more likely you it is that you will grow a dedicated audience. Good luck.

    • Jeff, 50 years ago I wrote for myself on a nightly basis in the diaries I kept. Now, as I have been transcribing those entries in my blog, currently called A Summer of 1961 Diary, I have been experiencing again the days and nights I wrote about back then. This time, however, the Feedjit widget I have installed on my blog lets me know that I have had people from all around the world take a peek at what I wrote.

    • Karen says:

      So true and yet so hard to do sometimes. We all get self conscious from time to time. I write for myself best when I trick myself by free writing, persuading myself I won’t even submit it for publication. I get some of my best writing that way (and I always end up submitting it).

      • Jeff Goins says:

        Indeed. I do the same. I like how you called it “tricking yourself.” Funny the games we writers have to play with ourselves to get out of a creative funk.

        I actually wrote an addendum to this piece, addressing the HOW of this subject. You’re welcome to read it here:

    • I agree with Scott – this is a great post. Thanks for the reminder about why we should be doing this.

    • Thank you for this post. It is inspirational.

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