A few of years ago, when I first started doing some serious writing, the other people in the writing group would ask “Who is your intended audience?” I hated that question. I just wrote some stories and hoped someone would, someday, voluntarily read them; enjoyment was entirely optional.
My writing process has changed a little. I have an intended audience now. This came about not through hordes of readers telling me that they were this-sort-of-person and they loved my stories, but through the writers who critique my writing at workshops. Now, I’m writing for good writers and good readers, as well as just writing to get the stories out of my head so there’s room for new ones.
Being a somewhat contrary person, I began discovering my audience antithetically; it became quite clear that there were certain people I didn’t want to write for. I have absolutely no respect for people who don’t read — for whatever reason — so they’re automatically off the list. People who are too lazy/disinterested in looking up a new word or idea are the sort of people I work with, not the ones I write for, so anyone who isn’t interested in learning or thinking is also a waste of my time. (This last group includes people who believe my subject matter is shocking or controversial. If you want shocking and controversial, read this.)
That takes care of a lot of people.
Then I switched directions and started thinking about the people I would be pleased to have read my work: logophiles, people who are drawn more to character than plot, people who like minutiae. I like those sorts of people. When they tell me I’ve written something worthwhile, I grin like a little kid. There are also some logistical definitions of my audience: necessarily, they have to be fluent in English and like reading short fiction. They have to know the implications of a semi-colon, because life ain’t worth living without semi-colons.
In short, I’m writing for myself and Yann Martel.
Having an intended audience does make the writing easier — or, rather, it makes the revisions easier. It does throw a wrench into the works, though: I look at things I wrote three or four years ago (like a part of Holland and Jaime) and wonder what the f*** I was thinking. But I’m also learning more about writing — you can never learn it all — and am delighted every time I discover a new, small thing that will make my audience happy. The weird thing is that I care about making them happy now, when three years ago I couldn’t have given a rat’s posterior about them.
Aren’t you pleased that you’re now important to me?