Who Do You Really Write For?

From Randy Murray:

If you’re a writer, you need a reader.

That may seem dazzlingly obvious, but I’m not talking about the person who may eventually read what you’ve written. I’m talking about someone you have in mind before you begin writing.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, the idea of an ideal reader. In fact, it was an obvious, yet eye-opening idea when I first heard John Gruber talk about this during his Voice x Obsession talk with Merlin Mann. John shared the fact that when he writes for his site he essentially sees his audience as a version of himself who never started his website.

That may be a sign of arrogance, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t primarily write for myself. However, much like Gruber1, it’s always to an alternate version of me. At any given time, I find I am doing one of two things: writing to me a month ago, sharing what worked (and what didn’t) or writing to myself a month from now, offering advice on how to get where I want to go.

I’ve always figured that I can’t possibly be the only person who struggles to suck less, who looks to create more and who wants to be more intentional. That drives most of the things you read here on the site. These words are born of a desire to help anyone who struggles with getting things done and getting things made as much as I do.

Give Randy’s article a read (and while you’re at it, make sure to check out his series on planning for 2012), it helps you understand why knowing who are or who you want to write for is so important.

What is your model reader like? Are you writing for someone or are you just hoping that your thoughts will resonate with anyone?

  1. Although a far less refined version of him…  

17 Responses to Who Do You Really Write For?

  1. Thanks, Michael.

    Since I make my living writing for business, I always have to build a model reader before I know how to write the required piece. My customers don’t always agree with me and in that case, they become the model. That’s not ideal. 

    When I write for my blog, my model may have aspects of me, I don’t think I can completely separate from that, but the model also also holds me to a higher standard. It demands clarity. I, personally, like to ferret out a mystery. My model for FTTT does not. Clarity, completeness of thought, solid evidence based claims. I don’t always succeed in writing for my model, but it’s what I strive for.

    • My pleasure and thanks for your thoughts.I hadn’t really thought about it that way. While I certainly have our ideal model customer in mind when writing for work, I hadn’t really considered holding myself to higher standard in my own writing. I’m strive towards clarity, but I tend to be honest about my ambiguity (read: the many, many things not yet figured out). I’ve really tried to focus, but I also try to remain true to what I’m dealing or about to deal with (without (hopefully) ending up in some narcissistic loop).

      I’m also really surprised clients don’t like the idea of figuring out their model. Is that them being cost effective (read: cheap) or is that a fear that their product wont appeal to everyone? That’s the battle I’m consistently fighting with others, the desire to appeal to everyone. A desire that almost exclusively ends up appealing to no one.

      • I’ve worked with a company that tries to offer “everything.” It doesn’t work. I still don’t know or understand what the company does, and I’m not sure the company owners do, either. Finding what you truly have to offer takes work, but it seems like its worth the effort. It is to me.

        In terms of my writing, I definitely don’t write for everyone. One of my acquaintances says my blog is more intellectual. I suppose it is. I don’t know. It’s me. I know I write for myself or, at least, a version of myself. I sometimes specifically write for or to another person, but it’s rare. Even then, my writing first has to satisfy me (Doesn’t that sound selfish?). If it doesn’t, it won’t resonate with anybody who might read what I have to say.

        • It might be a strange analogy, but it often feels like the summer blockbusters. They try to shove everything into one flick (a love story for her, gung-ho for him, a CGI character for the little one. (yes, I know I’m being reductive, but trust me so are these studios)). They get so watered down that everyone ends up hating them. 

          As for your blog, I doubt it’s for intellectuals… I mean I read it :) All joking aside, one of the things I enjoy about your writing is that you are clearly writing to someone. And if the writing doesn’t start by satisfying something within you, I don’t get why you’d want to do it for anyone else. So much of what I love about writing this site is that I’m CERTAIN I’m getting more out of it than others :)

      • Clients sometimes can’t believe that their customers don’t talk and think exactly like them. I’ve found that customers and prospects often have radically different ways of thinking about a problem than the companies that are trying to produce solutions. And inside companies and industries jargon builds up. It’s hard to break thru that.

        I’m mostly successful at that. Frankly, that’s why most people hire me and I’m pretty expensive. But some are stubborn about their jargon and it take a little work to break thru that.

        • I recently helped a friend out on a project where the client couldn’t quite believe it in the end and went with a jargon heavy nightmare of a newsletter for their first outreach. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t perform. When they finally came around and tried our original approach through the eyes of the customer, it performed so much better… sadly they had burned a good amount of their list with buzzword bingo long before they opened their eyes.

          Nothing wrong with being expensive when your effective and you must have some serious tricks up your sleeve if you know how to break a fan of his/her own in-house press…

  2. I always write for an alternate version of me, mostly because I know what I think, and I know how to please me. So if I market/write to people like me, then at least that one subset of people who might be reading will be really happy.

  3. I write to a small group of people some of whom rarely if ever read my blog and I write to me.Whenever I sit down at the keyboard I visualize them sitting across from me and try to tell the story the same way I would in person.

  4. […] As writers, we crave an readers. As potential businesses, we require potential customers. As humans, we want those we admire to tell us we’re worthwhile. This often causes us to shift our focus away from the work and toward finding an audience. There is no problem with this; part of the job of anyone who creates is to get it in front of another person. The challenge comes from who we target. […]

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