The Tortured Poets Department

Writing for yourself is writing for others

A question writers face is, “Should I write for others, or should I write for myself? Is it better to write to fit a marketable genre, or should I write whatever moves me?” As Steven Barnes pointed out at a Loscon panel in 2022, there’s an overlap between what you want to write about and what will sell. Those are the things we should write about.

And then there’s Taylor Swift.

Like almost everyone with a phone, streaming service, and headphones, I listened to The Tortured Poets Department when it was released at 9:00 pm local time on April 18, and then I had to listen to it again when the Anthology version came out the next morning. I felt it was a great album, and I gave it a positive review on Threads. I’ve heard a few criticisms, including some about clumsy, tone-deaf lyrics, but we can agree The Tortured Poets Department is a deeply personal work.

And because it is deeply personal, audiences can connect with it on a personal level.

I saw this in the many reaction videos where people bawled at heartbreak songs like “loml,” nodded in agreement to “I Can Do It with a Broken Heart,” savored the digs of “thanK you aIMee,” and cheered at the love songs for Travis Kelce, “So High School” and “The Alchemy” (which should be played at every Chiefs home game). Because these songs are personal, we can find situations that apply to us. Nearly all of us have experienced the excitement of a new relationship and the heartbreak when that relationship ends. Many of us have been bullied, and became motivated to prove those haters wrong. While we enjoy music with a catchy melody and driving beat, songs with powerful lyrics stay with us.

Art provides us with connection. I learned this when I started writing in high school. When you read a book, watch a show, or listen to a song about someone like you who dealt with the same problems you do, you realize that you’re not alone. As writers, the heroes we create to save us can save others. The worlds we build can offer them refuge. The villains we create reflect their fears and demons as well as ours. And we can show how they can be defeated or endured. This is how getting personal with our audiences can offer healing and connection.

Getting personal is risky. I’m getting ready to send Christina’s Portrait back out to submission, and I’m nervous about the reactions I’ll get when it gets published. But I also know there are others this book can help. And that’s what the novel is about. As one of my characters says about a video she helped create, “That story helped (another character) find healing for her pain, because telling it helped me find healing for mine.”

So don’t be afraid to get personal with your stories. Write about the things that matter to you, because there are people out there who need your message. Writing for yourself is writing for others.