Writers often ask themselves two questions: Will the reader like this piece? Do I like this piece? The fine line between writing to your audience and for yourself is the essence of the writer’s paradox. In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser explains this struggle. To understand the writer’s paradox, let’s go over the basics.
Who are you writing to?
Who you are writing to is up to you to decide. If you’re writing about academia, perhaps your audience is your peers or professor. If you’re writing about beauty tips on a blog, perhaps your audience is friends or family. If you’re writing for a newspaper, your audience would be its loyal readers. You get the gist. Who you are writing to is essentially about the craft of your writing. Think of this as the mechanics of your writing. Keeping the reader’s attention through practiced skill is the key to a successful piece. Think about will be reading your content and get to know your audience. If your sentences are based on solid principles, the chances of losing your audience are slim.
Who are you writing for?
Ultimately, you are (or should be) writing for yourself! Do not try to guess what others want to be reading. If you enjoy writing it, they will enjoy reading it! Who you are writing for is about the creative act of writing and your personal style. While nailing down the mechanics of your words, make sure to stay true to your personality. You can bring something different to the table if you express yourself through your writing. A lot of people are disingenuous in their writing to feed into a narrative of what they think people want to hear or read about. A good rule of thumb is to never say anything in writing that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying aloud in conversation. Just remember, not everyone will like your style, and that’s okay! Sometimes your audience is irrelevant; You’re writing for you.
Does the writer’s paradox hold true for all writing?
The short answer is no. There are four types of writing: expository, descriptive, persuasive, and narrative. You can find a writer’s personality in fiction, journal writing, advertising, editorials, etc. Expository writing is where you’ll find factual information in textbooks, instruction manuals, and technical writing. This paradox can be found in all writing except where factual information needs to remain at the forefront of its pages without the author’s opinion.
The fine line between who you are writing to and who you are writing for is something everyone has trouble with. You need to curate the mechanics and craft of your writing, but you also must remain honest to your values and voice. This is something that most, if not all, writers struggle with. Practice is the key to mastery, so keep writing!