As a writer, I’ve thought often about working with the audience in mind. It’s advice I’ve heard from many a source: know your audience.
It’s not always easy advice to follow. Do I pick one person and write with them in mind? Do I try to guess exactly what an entire demographic would want to read?
I’ve heard some folks advise extensive research before even getting started. First discover a popular subject and then choose a niche market within that. Make sure your every word caters to those within the market.
While this approach may turn out lucrative for some, I fear it may also be soulless, passionless, and disingenuous. In short, it’s pandering.
The way I see it, pandering is playing tunes you know the crowd wants, even if it’s not the music of your own heart.
I saw a comedian making fun of this in country music. I couldn’t help but laugh at how dead-on his spoof of the popular modern country song turned out. He even had a gust of wind blowing his hair at just the right moment.
On the other hand, I just read an article from an author I respect who suggested that writers don’t need to know who their audience is (at least not at first). It took me by surprise, since I don’t think I’ve heard that from anyone else. I appreciated the untypical approach.
Whether you’re a writer, musician, designer, director, chef, or any other form of creative, there will exist a temptation to take the popular route, to put the audience first. But, may I humbly submit, good art is never made this way.
True art is made from inside.
I know, it sounds so hippy and new-agey, like something my high school art teacher might have (most definitely) said. But I’ve found it to be the case.
When you begin with the things you care about, when the art truly matters to you, it will inevitably matter to someone else, too.
Pandering, on the other hand, may win you some fans, but you’ll also lose a lot of respect from other creatives and you yourself will not find satisfaction in your work.
Now, it’d be wrong to say the audience doesn’t matter. Of course they do. You don’t create in a black hole.
There is clearly a time to consider who would be most interested in your work—once you’ve made it. But don’t start out with the goal of winning friends and influencing people by making what you think they’ll want.
You will find the right audience when you produce the best work you can.
That happens when you let your creativity flow out of something you delight in, something real to you. Then you will naturally draw the best kind of audience, the one that appreciates you and your work for what it is, an expression of your true self.