One of the deepest lessons of being a successful writer is to do with where to place focus.
I don’t mean the focus that the writer puts on his or her work, though of course that’s linked. I mean the unspoken, often unconscious focus behind or around that.
Writing is a lonely affair. It has to be. To get those stories out onto the page or screen from wherever they dwell requires concentration, time and space. But surrounding that work is the invisible framework of thinking which is centred on the writer: the writer is doing this for his or her pleasure, or satisfaction, or fulfilment of yearning, or desire, or because of some partly hidden compulsion.
It’s all about the writer.
This may have been voiced to some degree, like ‘I'm writing so I can have freedom and flexibility, never have to work for anyone else again and perhaps escape from some restrictive or unpleasant things in my life.’
That statement orbits around the writer.
What results is fiction which is self-centred to some degree. It may act as a kind of therapy for the writer, but it’s unlikely to be successful for readers.
What’s needed is a mental ‘switch’ to another point of view. Those writers who can accomplish this switch - and many can and do - achieve something quite different in their fiction: they communicate something to another or others.
If this different viewpoint were put into words, it might read something like this: ‘I'm writing so I can produce emotional responses in others, help them to achieve some kind of fulfilment and perhaps help them to escape from some restrictive or unpleasant things in their lives’.
The two frameworks can overlap, of course. What the writer wants and what the reader wants can be much the same thing.
But when writers change focus and start to write for readers - explicitly, consciously - what kinds of things happen?
Word of mouth to others.
A fan community.
Here’s the underlying thing:
Readers don’t owe you anything. They are not going to ‘buy into’ your work just because it’s there.
You have to provide something that they need or desire.
And the special reward, if you can do this?
If you can do this for one reader - just one - you can do it for many. And there’s really no limit to how many readers there are in the marketplace.
So start with one reader in mind: you can even name him or her, or pick a real person from the people you know. Then write the story that you know they would like to read. Predict their thinking; surprise them; delight them.
Bring one reader the fulfilment they need and you can bring that same fulfilment to thousands. Even millions. But it starts with that ‘switch’ from writing for you to writing for someone else.