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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How do you write for one reader? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
How do you write for one reader? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.
I have a question from Charlotte Walker, a writer based in Paramatta, Australia. Here’s what she’s asked by email…
“I stumbled across a post on your blog about writing for just one reader. The idea sounds interesting but I’m having a tough time figuring out who that one person should be. I’m writing a blog and I hope thousands of people will read it. Doesn’t it make more sense for me to write for a larger group? Won’t I be missing out if I focus on just one person?”
Thanks for your question, Charlotte. In the show notes below, I’m including a link to the post you mentioned, in case anyone else wants to read it.
I know it’s hard to imagine that writing for just one person could be a reasonable approach, never mind a smart one. But I think it’s important for three main reasons:
Reason #1 – You will be more engaged as a writer if you imagine yourself to be writing to someone you already know. I’d like you to do an experiment this week. Try writing a short piece to your vast, amorphous “blog audience” and then try writing a piece on the same subject to your best friend. I can’t predict HOW these two pieces will be different from each other, but I can guarantee they will be. The blog audience post will be less specific, more generic and colder. The post to your friend will be warmer, funnier and more interesting.
Reason #2 – You’ll be thinking of someone other than yourself. Most of us are very self-centred and we tend to see the world through our own eyes. But your goal when writing is to have OTHER people read your words. And these other people are going to have different preferences with respect to just about everything — music, food, fashion, whatever. Much as we don’t want to believe it, the majority of people out there in the real world aren’t exactly like us! Forcing yourself to write for one other person is going to be a constant reminder that you need to think about someone else’s preferences.
Reason #3 – You’ll be giving yourself a clear measuring stick. What do I mean by that? Well, if you pick another person as your one reader, you’ll be able to ask yourself all sorts of important and useful questions. For example, let’s say your reader is a friend named Megan. You can ask:
- Will this explanation make sense to Megan?
- Will this lede (AKA introduction) interest Megan?
- Have I presented enough evidence to convince Megan?
And if you’re writing fiction, you can ask:
- Is Megan going to like this character?
- Will this joke make Megan laugh?
- Will Megan find this plot interesting enough?
Because you already know who Megan is, you’re going to be in a good position to answer questions like that. This will make the job of editing infinitely easier and help you be a lot better at it, too.
I know it’s tempting to think that you want thousands — perhaps even hundreds of thousands — of readers and that writing for one person will stop you from achieving that goal.
It won’t. Wrong as it feels, writing for one person is an easy way to make your writing more accessible to more people.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the Israeli novelist Abraham Yehoshua: “The most difficult and complicated part of the writing process is the beginning.”
Charlotte, writing for just one reader requires a bit of a leap of faith. But give it a try with just one story and see what you think. My hunch is that the technique will win you over.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.