I’d say that I’ve come a long way from my high school years, when I was struggling to find people who’d be interested in reading my stories. I’m not going to lie: it’s important to know that someone reads your stuff, that someone cares. Makes you feel less alone, and isn’t that one of the reasons we write?
And I appreciate that, and I’m truly grateful for being able to present my ideas or ask questions, to expect a response every single time I need one. But the truth is, we never write for a bunch of people. Yes, we talk a lot about finding our target audience, about all the ways we can improve how we reach our target audience, but that soon becomes a vague term, one that is used to define different people, who only share a number of preferences.
But they’re not one and the same.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we either write for ourselves or we write for just one person. Our ideal reader. Sometimes it’s a real person, someone whose feedback we treasure, other times we simply make him up.
Art requires a response. Any work of art can be synthesized as a question.
And we require but a single person to answer that question. I’ve always written with one person in mind. And, yes, my style has changed depending on who that person was and what type of stories that person liked to read. Like Vonnegut used to say, “you can’t make love with the entire world.”
Or something like that.
Our ideal reader is the person most likely to benefit from our story, the person who’ll genuinely care. That one person whose life we can change with just a few words. We try our best to please just one person, because it’s always an achievable goal.
We you think in terms of target audiences, when you imagine the overwhelming population of the Internet, when you imagine how fifty or a hundred thousand people look like… it’s difficult to focus on what you’re doing. Your putting unnecessary pressure on your shoulders, because you expect that some of them will hate your work.
One of the most important rules when making art is, “You can’t please everyone.”
Yet, by writing with a specific audience in mind, we try to do so. And we always fail, and we’ll always feel like failing, because, like I said, you can’t please everyone.
But if you focus on just one person, real or not, it becomes a lot easier to invest all your energy and passion into writing the story as you want to write it. You’re not trying to make love to the world, you’re nothing chasing after elusive dreams, you have a specific goal in mind… you have a target, not a target audience.
You simply want to please one person. And that’s a goal you can understand, a goal you can honestly believe to be achievable.
Take me, for instance. I wrote Jazz for a single person. As a gift, more or less. Because she really liked the idea of the story, and at the time, she was one of the few people willing to read my stuff. Yeah, I had some sort of audience on Wattpad when I was writing The Writer, but I was actually trying to write just the story a dear friend of mine would like to read. But only by looking back do I realize all these things…
But not all of my stories were written for my ideal reader. I wrote Dream City because I’ve always wanted to write about a painter. I wrote Mr. Nobody because I used to be terrified to talk to girls. I wrote Remember because I remembered that I used to keep a diary when I was a kid. I wrote A Sad Sad Symphony at a time when I was scared that I’d die without completing my masterpiece, without getting a change to show the world what I was truly capable of.
But I never, ever wrote a story for some huge, ridiculously difficult to imagine number of people. I never published anything that I wrote during my earlier years, when I was desperate for the entire world to worship my writing, when I was trying too hard to impress.
Art is simple. Making art is simple. As long as you focus on all the things that really matter, as long as you forget about your target audience, about what you think people might want to read, or what you think might sell. Or what you think movie producers would love.