Googling the phrase “do you need to think about your audience when you write” brings up countless articles on the subject. At least the first page of results confers a resounding “YES!” Nearly every entry talks about writing for marketing or other business platforms such as technical blogs. Writing for an audience is no longer a calling for the few – the Faulkners and the Hemingways – but something that anyone with access to the net can take part in. Thanks, LiveJournal!
Professional writing was once a fine art pursued by literary zealots who poured over their pages, fanatical about getting every word just right. Or, perhaps, tapped out feverishly by journalists who worked day and night to get the news to print. Writing today can take many forms, including most prolifically in the marketing sphere on social media. When the outcome of your writing is not for the sake of writing, you must focus on the audience and their interests and desires. Gary Vaynerchuk notes in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook that when you’re using social media for marketing, knowing your audience can make or break how much of your content is seen by consumers. Algorithms dictate the amount of eyeball time your company gets based on interactions with your previous content. Vaynerchuk states that “by speaking directly to the right demographic, you’ve increased the probability that people will engage with your content instead of giving Facebook the impression that people don’t care about your brand anymore.”
In the book On Writing Well, William Zinsser suggests that a good author must write for herself and not worry what the audience wants to read. “Editors and readers don’t know what they want to read until they read it. Besides, they’re always looking for something new.” Zinsser follows this proclamation with a paradox – how can a writer think carefully about not losing the reader and still be carefree about his opinion? The answer is all in the craft – an author who crafts her work clearly and concisely will keep the interest of a reader no matter what the topic.
Mark Bernstein echoes this sentiment in his post titled 10 Tips on Writing the Living Web. His first tip is to “write for a reason.” Bernstein says that “people are fascinated by detail and enthralled by passion.” Readers want to be moved by what they’re reading, even if the content is unfamiliar to them. I cannot believe a single person could read Henry David Thoreau’s most famous line from Walden and not feel, somewhere deep within their soul, compelled to take to the forest:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Whether you have devoted your life to exploring the woods or have never left your NYC neighborhood, Thoreau’s words are moving because they are written with a passion for the subject of naturalism and self-reliance that is clear and hard-won. He did, after all, take to the woods for two years, two months, and two days to be able to write that line for us.
In our modern world, there is a glut of writing, and most of it is bad. We write for an audience because it is the audience who will buy the piece of writing, or more often, whatever we’re trying to market with our writing. When we begin to think of everything, including ourselves, as a brand off of which we can profit, we lose the ability to write for the sole purpose of telling the story that lives deep within us. I hope that in the future, more young writers skip the countless google entries about writing for an audience and pick up On Writing Well to learn about their craft.
Original Painting is “Walden Pond in Winter” by Will Moses.