There is no in-between: you can either write for yourself or for your audience.
But, why? Why must the line be so divisive? Why can’t you write for both? Despite William Zinsser claiming on chapter five of On Writing Well that this is a paradox, he believes that you can “think carefully about not losing the reader and still be carefree about his opinion” (25). This is the type of writing that triumphs over all other kinds of writing.
There are multiple instances where it’s better to write exclusively for yourself, or exclusively for your audience. If you decide to take up blogging, then write blogs only for yourself. “Relax and say what you want to say…your style won’t solidify for years” (Zinsser, 25). Chances are, if you want to tell a story, someone else will want to read it. It takes time to build an audience through content that you make with only yourself in mind, but once you do, they will be your most loyal readers because they share a connection with you through the content you write.
Writing for your audience, however, is more important in different situations. Journalists and marketers, for example, have no choice but to write exclusively for their audiences, and there’s very little space for personal input. These readers only care about the current events or the product they are reading about. They could care less who the writer is. Gary Vaynerchuk, author of Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World, says that marketers need to reinvent their content every day, and if they want to know their consumers like family, they need to tell stories that the consumers want to hear (33). Similarly to writing for yourself, the audience can connect with marketers or journalists through the stories they are told, and if the audience is satisfied with what they read, they will develop a reliability for this particular journalist or marketer and will return whenever new content arrives.
As I’ve stated at the beginning of this piece, you should not write exclusively for yourself or your audience. The best stories are written with both the reader and the writer in mind. When you focus on your reader, you are “mastering a precise skill.” When you focus on yourself, you are using “that skill to express your personality” (Zinsser, 25).
Or, as S. J. Siedenburg writes in “Writing for Readers vs. Yourself: The True Answer You Need”: Once you have written for yourself, edit for your readers.
You get the story you’ve always dreamed about writing, while your readers get a cohesive, well structured piece that keeps them hooked and leaves them wanting more. When writing for yourself, you get the connection between you and your audience through your story. When writing for your audience, your piece can become very profitable. When you write for yourself with your readers in mind, you get the best of both worlds, and you create a story that has a lasting impact on everyone who comes across it.
Siedenburg, S.J. “Writing for Readers vs. Yourself: The True Answer You Need.” Writing Cooperative, Medium. 23 Dec, 2018.
Vaynerchuk, Gary. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World. HarperCollins, 2013.
Zinsser, WIlliam. On Writing Well. HarperCollins, 2013.