Truth bomb: Any writer that says they don’t write for anyone but themselves, or tells you to write for yourself, is a liar. The reason for this? Acceptance.
Every writer, unless they immediately burn everything they write, wants their writing to be accepted by someone. Anyone, really. Because although writers are used to rejection, no one actually likes it. That’d be weird.
It’s true that when you’re writing something, anything, it should be something you’re passionate about. In that sense, yes, write for yourself. Only when you’re writing something you’re passionate about will you write well. It’s difficult to write anything compelling if you don’t give a shit about the story. That’s why accepting assignments can be a dangerous thing for a writer. On the one hand- money! Yay! On the other hand – this story is stupid and I hate it. Boo!
Disclaimer – I’ve never been offered an assignment. I write that based on conjecture and because sometimes it’s fun to pretend you know about things you really don’t. It’s amazing what people will believe so long as you project an air of authority when speaking/writing. Try it sometime.
Past writing what you’re passionate about, every writer wants an audience. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be writers. They’d be accountants or something. With that in mind, it’s important to know who you’re writing for. What audience do you hope to reach? Don’t say everyone. If you can write something that appeals to everyone, great, but I imagine that sort of thing is more of a happy accident than part of any grand design. People are too different. So start small, then tailor your writing to that.
More importantly than audience, which some writers may eschew if they’re not worried about supporting themselves as writers, is feedback. Other people will criticize your work. Some of these people might actually make some good points. In that case, if you make the changes is it fair to say you’ve written something for them? Instituted an idea they had? Changed a sentence they didn’t like? It’s hard to say the story is solely yours at that point.
This is all to say that writing is a collaborative medium. Collaboration makes us better. It took me a long time to learn that. It’s nice to say that you do something for yourself, or that you’re the special type of artist that can operate in a vacuum and claim ownership over every word, but it’s not realistic.
Listen to others. Write for others. It not only makes you better, but it gives meaning to your work.