“I don’t have an audience; I have a set of standards.”
—Don DeLillo, Paris Review 1992
Do you consider your audience when you’re writing?
I often get a variation of this question from readers and from students of my writing class, and the answer is not as simple one might think. My first inclination is to say, “No.” But that’s not entirely true. If I’m being honest with myself, then ultimately the answer is yes and no.
No in the sense that I am not a demographer. I don’t sit down and attempt to craft a message for 35-55-year-old white females or high school sophomores with divorced parents (though both demographics visit our site). Nor do I sit down and attempt to write something that will appeal to the largest possible audience. Doing so would result in a shittily crafted product. Constantly worrying about what others might think, a) is a futile endeavor, and b) can be disingenuous. This is, in fact, why we removed comments from our website—because we didn’t want to cater our message to the 0.1% of naysayers stalking the comment threads.
But the answer is yes in the sense that when I do consider the reader, he or she looks rather suspiciously like me. Not that he’s (or she’s) a 31-year-old, 6’2″, white male, but I assume that my audience thinks much like I do. That is, my typical reader is open minded, inquisitive, introspective, and struggles with important life issues just like I do. My typical reader is inherently flawed, just like me. This is where we make a connection.
Thus, I don’t attempt to craft a message that will appeal to everyone; I simply write for you—someone who thinks much like I do. We will disagree from time to time—even I frequently disagree with myself—but we’re both receptive to new ideas and we’re willing to change our minds.
There are obvious examples in which this form of creating would not work—the Jitterbug cellphone, children’s diapers, many medications—but for many creative types, it seems best to consider yourself as the audience. Because with all our differences, there are millions of people just like me and you.