"Don't try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience, every reader is a different person."
― William Zinsser (from On Writing Well)
One of the things we often forget as writers, is that essentially we are writing for an audience of one.
However many people end up reading our work, each individual person will have their own relationship with what we have written. Some will love what we write, some will be indifferent and some will flat out hate it.
From the writer's perspective, coming back to this vision of an audience of one reader is helpful for a few reasons:
1) Staying Focused
When we write for an audience of one it's easier to stay on topic. We focus simply on the message we wish to convey and we go ahead and craft it.
Trying to write for the internet or an audience at large is a mistake. Our message will get muddled, we'll slip off topic and we'll try to squeeze too much in.
2) We Keep Our Message Simple and Concise
Writing for an audience can lead us to over-explaining, being verbose and generally muddying our message. Writing for one instead frees us up. We can keep our message simple, concise and direct.
The best writing can often be about not just what's on the page, but what the writer has decided to leave unsaid. Leaving the reader space to breathe and think, to join the dots themselves and come to their own conclusions. Concise can be powerful, just look at the Haiku greats for inspiration.
The same applies to simplicity in our writing. Writing for an audience of one means we feel less pressure to use the fancy words when something simple will do just fine. We do away with the fluff and concentrate on the message.
Simple writing can be powerful writing.
3) We Write in a Friendly Tone
If we're writing for one, we can do away with formality and pretend we're writing for someone we know. This could be someone in our life we know well or an imaginary audience of one to serve our topic at hand.
This approach can soften the tone and helps us relax into our own unique writing voice.
4) We Stop Trying to Be All Things to All People
Trying to write for an audience of many can dilute our writing. We get distracted from the core message because we're trying to make a piece of writing (blog post, article, book) accessible and exciting to everyone.
However, the best writing makes it's mark not because it's all things to all people but because it resonates with a few.
Hemingway isn't for everyone but many consider him a genius in the craft of writing. He's rightly an established great because of it.
JK Rowling is not everyone's cup of tea but that hasn't stopped her transformative work touching the lives of so many (young and young at heart) people. She stuck to her guns, stayed true to her own vision and her books are all the better for it.
Great writers write to tell a tale. They are committed to the story and message first and foremost. Of course they want an audience to find it, but the message comes first.
Concentrating on an audience of one can help us fight the urge to try to make our writing all things for all people.
5) We Avoid the Trap of Hacks and Trying to Game an Audience
In a world full of hacks and shortcuts, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that we're actually writing for a human being rather than for traffic hikes, accolades and social media likes.
Of course we want people to find our work but sensationalist headlines and formulaic material is not the route to our best writing. We owe it to ourselves and our audience to strive for better. More than that, we owe it to the craft of writing itself to do better.
Forget the gaming, write for a real person. It may not be a fast route to stardom (is there really any such thing?) but it's likely to lead to your best work.
There's a power in focusing on one. Try it the next time you write something.