You are Your Most Important Audience

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In the past few weeks, I’ve had several occasions to talk to individuals about the best practices for starting blogs, which when you boil it down is talking about how to write, and keep writing. Just about the only generic advice I can give is simple: focus on what’s sustainable. Over the long term, I believe that the most sustainable blogging is what Jim Grisanzio talks about here:

I could not agree more. I got into blogging a couple of years ago. Many things have changed since then, but for me one thing hasn’t changed — I blog for an audience of one: me.

That’s what makes blogging sustainable, IMO. My interests in particular subjects may wax or wane, but if I’m allowed to talk about whatever’s on my mind at the time I’m far more likely to keep contributing, as opposed to highly specialized blogs which may or may not hold my interest level longer term. This isn’t always possible in settings like corporate blogging, of course, but when I talk to people about starting blogs I emphasize the importance of having personal ownership – and by extension, accountability – for a blog. Ownership alone is not going to make a non-writer want to write, but it may keep a writer writing.

It just so happens that this is the same advice imparted by John D MacDonald in what I still consider to be the best essay on writing I’ve ever read – the foreward to his friend Stephen King’s book of short stories, Night Shift (a good read in and of itself). In it, MacDonald writes in part:

I am often given the big smiling handshake at parties (which I avoid attending whenever possible) by someone who then, with an air of gleeful conspiracy, will say, “You know, I’ve always wanted to write.”

I used to try and be polite.

These days I reply with the same jubilant excitement: “You know, I’ve always wanted to be a brain surgeon.”

They look puzzled. It doesn’t matter. There are a lot of puzzled people wandering around lately.

If you want to write, you write.

The only way to learn to write is by writing. And that would not be a useful approach to brain surgery…

He [Stephen King] does not write to please you. He writes to please himself. I write to please myself. When that happens, you will like the work too.

Amen. Write for yourself, because whether it works or not you’ll get something out of it.


  1. Stephen —

    Something about this post (and Shel Israel's and Jim Grisanzio's — with
    whom I've discussed this very topic recently) caused me to ruminate on
    it for prit-near my entire ~30-minute commute today.

    So here's what I think (I think :)):

    I agree, but in addition to the belief that bloggers should write mainly to
    please themselves, I'd add this: Reserve a little time to categorize their
    posts and offer per-category feeds.

  2. hi Eric: i see the point, and while i'm certainly not against categories or category specific feeds, i'd stop short of requiring them. i simply haven't found them necessary in my consumption.

    case in point is Jeremy Zawodny, who's very into flying/gliding, and posts a lot about that. i personally am not that interested in the topic, so i just skip those posts.

    if jeremy posted the majority of time on that topic, i might see the benefit, but most of the bloggers i read are measured in their commentary on off topic subjects.

    but maybe that's just me.

  3. I was reading Nigella Lawson's excellent cookbook How To Eat last night, and there was a related point in there — she spends an entire chapter on meals for one, and in her introduction to the chapter has the following two excellent quotes:

    "Most people can't help finding something embarassingly onanistic about taking pleasure in eating alone."


    "It's virtually impossible to be innocent of [the tense-necked desire to impress others]."

    I think those statements are true of bloggers too; I'd like to think that there are at least a few people out there who find what I have to say interesting, and there is something a little hubristically embarassing about putting something that you're writing only for yourself on the public internet.

    That said, I take your point — if I wasn't interested in what I'm writing, I wouldn't be writing it.

  4. Well said about writing (and basically much more than just just that). If creator is not interested of what s/he is doing, final outcome of creation process could be much less interesting than in situation where s/he putting the best for it.

  5. Fraxas: unquestionably, we also write for others. much of my commentary is intended for popular consumption as much as it is for me, but it's for me first and foremost. little bit of both is probably a good thing.

    Daniel: thx, but the credit actually goes to the other folks. i'm merely repeating their wise lessons.

  6. No, I didn't say that you said those things originally; I just generally said that those things were said in good way. Anyway…

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