Do you have someone specific in mind, or are you just aiming into the dark, hoping that with some luck, you’ll at least hit something?
I’ve come across this question many times over the years, first beginning with my days in journalism school. Who’s your target audience? Who needs to hear this message?
But for some reason, I’ve also always struggled with it. Most of the time, I didn’t really know who I was writing for.
I had ideas of who I wanted to reach, or felt that perhaps I could reach, but then when I sat down to write, that vision became fuzzy and felt far away. The picture of my audience was vague and blurry at best, and sometimes not present at all.
There seemed to be some sort of catch to it. Why couldn’t I get it?
Then Stephen King Says It
I have to admit that I’ve never known much about Stephen King.
I know about as much as anyone who doesn’t read him knows: he’s famous, one of the most widely read authors in the world, with dozens and dozens of best sellers. He’s one of the most popular writers out there right now, and has been for years — decades, even. His books have been made into movies, for God’s sake!
He’s one of those writers — the kind any writer in their right mind respects and admires, if not for the love of the kind of stories they tell, then certainly for their accomplishments and success in reaching/captivating that many people.
I’m not a fan of any of the genres Stephen King is most revered for writing in (horror being my worst nightmare!) — but that doesn’t mean that when he writes a book about writing, I’m not going to listen.
I just finished reading King’s famous book, On Writing, and among the many lessons that book taught me was the one about writing for someone in particular.
“You can’t let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter the most. And you should. Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader.”
— Stephen King
For King, that one person he writes for happens to be his wife, Tabitha.
He says that whether he likes it or not, she’s always there in the back of his mind, as if looking over his shoulder while he writes. He constantly imagines how she might react, what she might do or say.
“I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, ‘I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?’” - Stephen King
And with that, it finally clicked.
My Ideal Reader Emerges
Who I write for suddenly became so apparent.
His face popped up, clear as a bright summer’s day in my mind’s eye. It must be because Stephen King said it.
My Ideal Reader is also my partner, and has been ever since he came into my life a few years ago.
He is the first person I want to read my articles. He’s the one I send my work to when I want to share what I’ve accomplished that day. He’s the one I want to talk about my writing with, the one whose feedback or critique I crave most.
As in King’s case, he’s also my biggest supporter.
He’s the one who lifts me up and points out the good in an article I think just plain sucks. He’s the one who laughs out loud while reading it when something is funny, who sits there on the couch with a big grin on his face when he gets to the end of an article that’s touched him in some way.
With every new article I write, I have him in mind. I want to share it with him. I want to see how he reacts. In short, he’s my buffer; my gauge on the outside world.
The One I’m Writing For
When King explained the role his wife plays in his life, and especially in his writing, who I’m writing for was made obvious.
How could I have had so much trouble seeing it all this time?
I am writing for my partner, because I know him. He is so much like me. He is the type of person I want to reach, anyway: someone who is motivated, interested, curious, ambitious, driven to grow, learn, improve — and most of all, to live the life of his dreams. In short, he’s a dreamer.
He’s the type of person I want to surround myself with. He’s the person I want to influence in my daily writings, and in turn, be influenced by. He’s my natural choice to read through my work first.
If I write for him, and if he’s motivated or inspired in some way by my words, then I’ll know I’m reaching the right people.
John Steinbeck says to “Write it as a letter aimed at one person. This removes the vague terror of addressing the large and faceless audience and it also, you will find, will give a sense of freedom and a lack of self-consciousness.”
Of course, both King and Steinbeck were speaking of writing novels or short stories, but I think the same concept applies to writing anything — articles or blogs included.
The whole process becomes so much simpler when I think about it this way.
Who are you writing for?