Finding Your Reader – The Evolution of a Writer: The Middle Years

The Evolution of Becoming a Writer Part 4

For a long time, I didn’t know who to write for. Seems silly, I know. The obvious choice is “write for yourself,” but that’s hard. The stuff I write only for myself I don’t want anyone else to read. So what to do about the stuff I want to write for others?

Turns out, writing for some vague, amorphous “anyone” is a terrible choice.

I’ve heard of the phrase, “If you open a window and make love to the world… your story will get pneumonia” (–Kurt Vonnegut). Stephen King has similar advice about finding your One True Reader and writing just for them. They boil down to essentially the same thing: writing specifically for one person. It’s more than just knowing your audience. Having a particular person I’m writing for actually makes the writing easier.

Unfortunately I hadn’t really processed that until now. I used to be caught up in the marketability of what I’m working on, whether it would sell, whether anyone would read it. I used to think if I wanted to get anywhere, to be a REAL writer, I had to write nothing but ORIGINAL, THOUGHT-PROVOKING STUFF.

It is incredibly hard to write when you’re anxious about stuff like that.

Here’s the thing. Not everyone is going to like your stuff. Not everyone is going to get you. Not everyone is going to like your style, your voice, or you. Some people might even resent you just for existing.

It took me an incredibly, shamefully long time to realize that these are the people I shouldn’t be trying to please. If they don’t like me, I should stop writing for them.

Because there are plenty of people who do like what I do. Who like my voice and style. Who like me.

It seems like such a no-brainer to say “Okay, write for them, then.” And yet, I didn’t really get that until just recently. Worse, is that I should have.

See, I also write fanfiction. And when I write fanfiction, I write for an actual particular person. An individual. Each story has one person I write it for, one specific person I want to read it, for varying reasons: whether I think that person would find it funny or if it’s a prompt-fill or if someone posted an interesting meta or head canon and I write a piece based on it. And let me tell you, it is so much easier to write like that. Words just sort of… flow right out by themselves almost. It’s much more freeing, and in the end, produces much better work.

It didn’t happen all at once, but over several years I have managed to shuffle off that narrow, toxic thinking. And it is toxic—thinking like that kept me from enjoying writing. At times, it even made me hate it.

I think I’ve said this on here before, but I’ll say it again: I still consider myself a young writer. Or new, anyway. I only started writing semi-seriously back in 2011 and most writers I know (including those in this group) have written for twice that long, at least. There’s a lot of stuff I’m still learning and absorbing. Including, apparently, the mindset I need to have in order to actually, you know, write.

I know it sounds like such a small thing, but figuring out what it means to have a Reader (with a capital R, in Stephen King-esque fashion), has helped me out tremendously. It’s pretty much on par with finding my voice. In fact, I’d say for me, it goes hand-in-hand with finding my voice. Half of figuring out what you want to say is figuring out who you want to say it to.

So for all you out there that maybe haven’t figured out who you want to write for, who are anxious and trying too hard to please everyone with your writing, try this. Find a person. One person. Preferably a real person, and write your story for them. Write them something you think they’ll enjoy. Whether or not this person actually ever read is up to you. But writing for one person will focus your story, give it an edge and a voice faster than anything else I know.

Hopefully it’ll help you as much as it’s helped me.


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