Your Audience Should Not Be “Everyone”

I have spent a good many years since – too many, I think – being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.

– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Even 200 years ago authors knew that a book cannot – and should not – please everybody. Here’s Jane Austen (in her usual tongue-in-cheek style) writing a letter to her sister the year that Pride and Prejudice was published:

I had had some fits of disgust [with Pride and Prejudice] . . . The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade, it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense, about something unconnected with the story; an essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte or anything that would form a contrast, and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and epigrammatism of the general style. I doubt you’re quite agreeing with me here. I know your starched notions.

Ironically, it’s when a writer writes with a narrow scope and only a small target audience in mind that her work has the greatest chance of pleasing the masses. So hunker down in your literary niche and let the world find you.

*Photo by Richard Kardhordo @ 500px / CC BY

You’ve Got to Read If You Want to Write

Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Last year I returned to my book roots. I did read a couple of new ones, but I mostly went through my stack of old favorites – because, as King also said: “Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.” The verdict? I like wizards and witty (if not slightly disturbed) damsels:

  • Harry Potter 1-7 by J. K. Rowling
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
  • Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding
  • A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Whenever I’m apathetic about my writing, I find that it’s usually because I’m trying to be someone I’m not – trying to impress a potential agent, editor or reader. Reading books that I admire, written by authors who have stuck to their literary guns come rain, snow or evil review, inspires me to stay true to myself.

*Photo by Zoran Mesarovic 500px / CC BY