Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
The alternate title of this rule: you can’t win them all.
Writing is psychological. With the advent of self-publishing overtaking traditional publishing, the idea seems to be that any random Joe off of the street can sit down at the computer and put out a book, and maybe they can. But what I’ve found is that writing can be the greatest thing ever and it can also be the worst feelings you will experience. You are literally baring your soul for the world to see, and a lot of those people just don't get that. Remember that narcissism I talked about earlier in this series? Probably not, as it was a couple months ago. But writing is narcissistic at its very core. You’re telling people that they should pay attention to you, that what you have to say is important. And because of that, it’s natural to want to be universally-liked. When somebody doesn’t like something you’ve written, it can feel like a punch to the gut. Some writers get defensive (I’m certainly guilty of this), others get depressed, and some will actually stop writing.
It’s actually hypocritical of me, somewhat, to tell you Don’t let them get to you because in truth, they’ve gotten to me a few times. But then, I’ve never claimed to be perfect—awesomely close, maybe, but that’s another blog post for another day—so I can say that:
Don’t let them get to you.You will drive yourself crazy trying to please everyone. So: don’t. Pick your ideal audience and write for them. For me, I’m a Chuck fan that likes intelligent characters that aren’t humiliated for the sake of the plot or a silly joke. I enjoy a good romantic build-up, amusing one-liners, and a plot that won’t fall to shambles if poked hard enough . So I imagine my audience is the same and write for that audience. I keep that person—basically a mirror-me—in mind while I write, and I think: Am I explaining this correctly? Could this be clearer? Will they find this funny? Writing, normally a solitary activity, actually becomes something of a dialogue as I open it up to my imaginary audience.
… This is starting to sound a little like A Beautiful Mind, isn’t it? Rest assured, my imaginary audience isn’t sitting beside my computer desk, smoking an imaginary pipe. Though, honestly, I wouldn’t mind it so much if it was Paul Bettany…
So that’s what I think this rule is saying. Come up with the audience/person you want to impress and set out to impress them. If people don’t like your story, screw ’em.* At least you wrote the best, most honest story you could, then.
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