books · On Writing

The Ideal Reader

She opens story…

He reads, laughs, wonders, and thinks…

My ideal readers!

A marketer by profession and experience, I have identified, analyzed and targeted with the best of them. I can nimbly articulate the demographics for the audience for my work in progress. What’s more, I am able to describe a target audience member in neat boxes of gender, age, education, profession, and even in some wobbly boxes such as world view and favorite writers.

Knowing these boxed facts is important. It’s a cost of entry to the tough, rewarding business of writing.

However, I don’t write for a demographic.

I write for the little kid opening the book with no expectations, their own clean, amiable mind open to the story that they are about to read. I write for the young girl who reads in the doorway of the mud hut because that’s the only place it’s bright enough to see. The little boy reading under the covers way past his bedtime is a favorite (I used to ram a towel at the bottom of my door so no one knew I was reading late into the night). Of course, there is the kid who has to read something “respectable” and “real” and lost their rude graphic novel to the teacher’s desk.

This is one tough audience.

These kids don’t have to read what I write. These kids don’t know from genre, don’t care about blurbs, and could care less about genius craft. They are all about the story.

Is the story good? Does it transport them? Is it exciting — and is it powerful enough to compel the kid to read against all the demands and lures of a busy life?

Writing for that kid is the hardest thing that I have ever attempted. It requires a brutal honesty to what works and what doesn’t — and to change course when I recognize that nothing remains of the words that I’ve flung at the wall but a mess on the floor that even the dog won’t go near.

For the kid, I put on my pants and writing like a maniac. For the ideal reader, I also suit up and organize, study, and attentively craft my piece. Some days are a dizzying round of changing outfits. What’s more, when I absorb the common sense brilliance of Donald Maass’ The Emotional Craft of Fiction, I look at what I have done and sigh into a new pair of pants with a suit jacket slung over the back of my writing chair.

I write for that little kid within myself. Tell me a story. Write the words that I can set into motion in the world that I imagine. Make it worth it for me to follow the twists and turns and feel like I have taken an excellent, worthy journey.


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