To write for an audience, or not to write for an audience… that is one of many questions a writer faces at the start of a project. And like everything else, there are many opinions from across the literary landscape. If you are serious about publishing your book, then you should write to an audience, some say. Others suggest you forget audience entirely and focus on writing the best possible story. I’m of this opinion.
Focusing on quality of writing should always be a primary focus when writing. Marketing your book comes later. If the story is not up to snuff, odds are there will be no audience for your work. Too, writing for an audience is akin to writing to whatever fad is popular at the moment. When the moment passes, so does the fad. Writing a story with universal truths that affect all people at all times is the true test of good writing… just ask Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Toni Morrison.
That said, it does help to keep one reader in mind as you write: yourself. Being well read is generally a prerequisite for becoming a writer. Reading is what trained your mind to think in terms of plot, narrative voice, characterization and other key elements that make up a story. When writing, trust the reader’s instincts you developed and write the story you would kill to read. If you do this well, the audience will follow later.
The key to writing for yourself is learning how to view your work objectively. Traps such as imitating other authors or mimicking popular trends are a sure-fire way to lose sight of what you value as a reader.
Objectively evaluating your work throughout the development of the story, whether it be over one year or ten years, ensures the story stays on track and true to vision as a writer and reader.
Of course, to understand your vision, you must have a good understanding of yourself and what is important to you as a writer. In either case, honesty is the key to objective evaluation of ideas and goals.
The development phase of an idea or story is a good time to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the theme of my story playing out because it is an expected outcome, or because it is what I believe to be true?
- Do my characters behave a certain way because it is expected or because it feels honest and true to me as a reader?
- Have I chosen a plot because it is tried and true or because I am obsessively in love with it?
In short, the key to writing to yourself is to truly understand what is meaningful and important to you and letting everything else go. This includes market expectations and trends as well as literary devices that, while successful, also run the risk of being tired and restrictive. Readers are after the truth you have to tell in a way that only you can tell. Use your own words, trust what makes sense to you and matters to you. Odds are it will matter to an audience out there, too.
Trust what sparks a fire in your belly and give it your all. Your reader self and future readers will thank you for it!