The More You Write For Yourself, The Better Your Book Will Be

There is an old saying. What comes from the heart reaches the heart.

I have always found this to be true. But I would add to it my own less elegant postscript. It helps to know who you’re talking to.

GIVEAWAY: John is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: bikerkat won.)



John Verdon is the author of mystery-thrillers. His latest novel
is LET THE DEVIL SLEEP (July 2012, Crown). John is a former
Manhattan advertising executive who lives with his wife in the
mountains of  upstate New York.  His first two Dave Gurney novels,
Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight, are
both international bestsellers.


When I wrote my first novel, the mystery-thriller THINK OF A NUMBER, I had an advantage that I would never have identified at the time as an advantage, or as anything good. It was simply this: I had no belief that the book would ever be published.

Wherein lies the advantage in that, you ask? And you might also ask, why did I bother to write it, if I didn’t believe anyone was going to read it?

Well, I hoped at least one person was going to read it. But I’ll return to her in a moment.

(A WD editor’s best piece of writing advice — period.)

The initial reason I wrote THINK OF A NUMBER was simply to see if I could. I’d been reading and enjoying certain kinds of detective novels for many years. I discovered a handful of writers whose works I devoured: Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Reginald Hill, Peter Robinson.

After a while, it seemed to me that I had come to understand what they were doing — not just that I understood their books, but that I saw the art behind the whole detective story concept, the process of creating it. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to put this presumption to the test, to try to write one myself. I was afraid, of course, that I was going to discover that doing it was a far different thing from understanding it — like the first time I tried ice skating.

A few ideas started coming together in my mind: a scary opening, a brilliant murderer, an impossible crime, a restless detective, a marriage in trouble. Various colorful characters started to populate the landscape. Soon I had a starting point, a rough outline, an emotional arc. All of that found its way onto index cards.

And then, at some point, surrounded by all my scribbled notes, I started writing. Paragraphs. Pages. Chapters.

Which brings me back to my audience of one. I was fairly sure, if and when I finished the story, that my wife would read it, and that would be the end of it. And so, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes consciously, I was writing it for her. I was writing it to her. I was telling her the story.

(How long should a synopsis be? Is shorter or longer better?)

When she finally read it, she told me she loved it. And not only that she loved it, but that she thought is was really good and I should try to find an agent and get it published.

Cutting to the chase … I followed her advice and got a wonderful agent, Molly Friedrich; a wonderful publisher, Random House; a wonderful editor, Rick Horgan; and ended up with an international bestseller, sold to 27 publishers around the world, with hundreds of thousands of readers; and contracts for two more books — including my new thriller, LET THE DEVIL SLEEP.

But I have an odd feeling about it all. I have a feeling that if I was trying to write for hundreds of thousands of readers, I might not have ended up with any. I have a feeling that the success of my book came from the fact that I knew who I was writing it for.

I was writing it for someone whose intelligence I respect, whose sense of humor I share, whose opinions I value. I was writing it for someone whose sensibilities I would never want to offend. I was writing it for someone I love.

Perhaps writing for a reader you care about — and caring about the reader you write for — is another way of saying, “What comes from the heart reaches the heart.”

GIVEAWAY: John is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: bikerkat won.)


Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.


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43 thoughts on “The More You Write For Yourself, The Better Your Book Will Be

  1. futureauthor62

    It makes all the sense in the world. My partner, well. Its hard to keep her attention. o while I write, I have her read it. If she reads it and not put it down. I know Im on the right track. She gives a startinf point. She isnt afraid to be honest with me either.

  2. Denise Golinowski

    Hi, Jason! A pleasure to meet you through such a helpful post. Your experience with writing is similar to my own and contains the Very Best Advice. Write what you like to read is the best advice I’ve ever received, far more valuable than the way people perceive the “write what you know” though that is a variation on your theme. Congratulations on your sucessful path to publication and whether I receive the book or not, I wish you continued success!

  3. alshultz

    It’s fun for me to see another author writes that way. I have written for years, just for myself and only recently decided to pursue publishing – so I guess the way I write is still…for myself and in hope someone else would like to read it too! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  4. kwcraft

    This is a great post. Love is the only thing powerful enough to see you through the blood, sweat and tears anyway. I just got my first book deal after working on my second novel for 8 years—I loved these characters so much I had to see their story find its way into the world.

  5. colette kronner

    Great article! I used to write for my mother, but she is gone now. Now I write for a friend who is reading along with me who knows nothing, to whom I have to explain everything. Kind of like writing in my journal. It’s kind of like teaching, which is something I enjoy….

  6. nataliewrite

    Any writer who is honest, writes from the heart, will produce better and more original work. I like to see that in Memoir writing and in mystery thrillers; the books with twists are always the best!

  7. nancymonts

    That is a tip I am going to start using immediately. Thank you for sharing your story. You have a way with words in general, I really enjoyed this blog post. Thank you!

  8. stlynn

    When I’m writing I imagine that I’m telling a story to an imaginary person sitting there with me as if I’m talking to them rather than typing. Perhaps you can say it’s my imaginary friend but it works great. I started off writing a novel and because this story continued to develop in my head and my imaginary friend never left, I had to keep going and in less than a year I finished four books for the series. Then I had to break away and wrote another stand alone novel about a story that I simply could not get out of my head and found myself telling a story that I just had to get typed out.

    But when I take the time to edit my books and think about what other’s will think of the story I find myself losing the passion and confidence in my writing. I have to remind myself that writing five novels alone is a huge accomplishment whether they get published or not. But I am determined they will be. I have had one person read through the series and cannot wait for the fifth book so I have to be doing something right and I have my imaginary friend, my greatest motivator and supporter there to thank, as crazy as that sounds.

  9. bikerkat

    I love the fact that you have ideas just popping in your head all over the place. I have that happen and try to concentrate on what I need to write down. I take a note pad everywhere and if I happen to be out an no pad available, I will writing on receipts and napkins. I then stuff them into my purse and take them home, to sort through later on.
    I am so glad that I am not the only one who has the thoughts just streaming into my brain. Thank you for a wonderful insight into your writing. I have my first book at a publishing company as I type this, crossing my fingers for its success. I have another book to finish and get launched but I take in all advice from published authors to help me hone my skills. I am in Pennsylvania. Thank you.

  10. LynnFlickinger1

    Thank you! I have found that if I can write so it speaks to me, it will also speak to others. I get distracted by the madding crowd so thanks for the reminder to bring it back home 🙂

  11. Zephyrsaerie

    Lovely view and congratulations on writing a novel that works for the market. After a lifetime of practicing craft and doing just what you described, I’ve moved on from traditional publishing to the electron cloud. I’ve always written across genres and will continue to do so.

  12. sheenajohanns

    This is good advice- I find myself struggling to piece everything together as I work on my first novel. I believe part of the problem is exactly what you wrote about- I’m trying to imagine how countless unknown readers would react to each paragraph, character, etc, instead of focusing on doing what I love and writing for me or someone I respect.

  13. demily

    I really liked this article..i have a craving inside to write, but always put it low on my list–where a lot of my creative endeavors sit waiting for me..i love how you talked about your basic building blocks: ideas, to index cards, to sentences & paragraphs, ect. this is an inspiring article in that you’ve simplified the process, for me.
    So, thank you! Your book cover/title looks enticing & I think your personal info sounds like a pretty cool life! Congratulations on your success:)

  14. mpettitt

    This book looks good, and this was a fantastic article! I usually skim my newsletters from WD on my phone, but this one brought me onto my computer to read it.

  15. David Harrison

    Interesting idea John. I tend to write for myself, but broadening it to a person close to me might be a better idea. Thanks for the suggestion.

  16. nataliewrite

    I’ve always said that when one writes from the heart, the work is truly passionate, and the heart shows in the work. This will be a great read, just by the title alone…

  17. Abby

    Fantastic advice and quite inspiring! Reading this motivates me to keep writing my novel not only myself but for my dear friend. I agree that if the novel becomes too centered on servicing fans, it’ll spoil the pleasure of writing. I look forward to reading your novel if given the chance. Thanks for sharing!

  18. tdogg369

    I find that some of my best fiction is written when I include a kernel of truth, something that happened in my own past that’s just strange enough it could never possibly be made up. Of course, keeping my wife in mind never hurts.

  19. jdmstudios

    Great article. Thank you for this. As a visual artist interested in learning more about the art of writing, I think you are bang on here. When people are interested in a particular piece of art, whether it be art, music, dance or writing they are seeing that something that comes from the soul of the artist, something that touches them on one level or another. When you write for yourself, you are bringing your own heart and soul into the work to share with the world.

  20. Karababy50

    I’ve always heard you should write for yourself first and foremost. Which I’m sure is somewhat true. But let’s face it, every writer wants their work to be read and enjoyed by others. So I’ve tried to cater my stories toward my perceived audience. Sometimes it works (at least in fanfic when I know for sure what my audience expects), sometimes it falls flat and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head why this happens. You may think you know who your audience will be, but you can’t really know a nameless hoard of strangers.

    The most fun I’ve ever had writing is when I’ve written roleplay with a partner, someone I know and like/love/trust. A friend. Or when my best friend and I bounce plot ideas back and forth for her story. She trusts me, we have similar likes/dislikes and have both come to love her characters as if they were a real couple. It’s no longer just her story, it’s ours.

    I’ve never been published, never even tried, but have a few stories started that are now in limbo. I’m going to take your advice & my own experience related to it and rewrite one of these works or start a new story as if I were writing it for my best friend. Thank you, great article. 🙂

  21. nash62

    I think this is great advice. It’s wonderful that you have a particular person for whom you write. I need to decide who that is for me. Thanks.

  22. M. Shie

    Wonderful article. It is super exciting to me because I am working on a non-fiction book which is very difficult to write but you have provided me with the inspiration I need at this moment. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight.

  23. dep-wah

    I found that when I wrote what everyone else suggested I wrote, I couldn’t get anywhere. It’s only when I’m writing about the things I care about or want to have with that I feel as if I accomplish anything.

  24. fictionwriterccc

    Love the title and the story about writing to one person. Genius! I’m also a fan of Ross Macdonald. Have all of his books, though the pages are curling and cracking, I still read them again and again…

    Hope I get a copy of LET THE DEVIL SLEEP…

  25. Heather Marsten

    I’m also located in upstate New York, near Woodstock. You are right, the best writing is done with the person you care for in mind – or at least what your passion is in mind. I’ve shown early chapters of my memoir to a few people to watch their response to my story. Seeing that they are reacting the way I hoped they would, I feel like I’m achieving my purpose – to help other abuse survivors realize that true healing is possible. I am an avid reader of mysteries and love Chandler and other mystery writers. Your book is going to be placed in my book wish list. Have a blessed day.


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