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Adjust the Audience Knob

jbranchaud profile image Josh Branchaud ・3 min read

"Don't try to broaden so that it is relevant for everyone. Writing for one person is the best." -Ben Halpern

There are a lot of little things that make it hard for me to write. It can be hard to find a topic, to know where to start, to feel like I have something new to say, and to see a piece through. I wrote about pushing past some of these challenges and setting myself up for success in Write More, Write Small.

Even with that strategy of writing small things more often to make future writing easier, I still find myself getting stuck. This getting stuck usually looks one of two ways.

  • I have a topic in mind, but cannot figure out how to approach it.
  • I have written a bunch about a topic in a burst of inspiration, but the writing feels scattered, like a bunch of pieces that don't quite fit together.

I've come to realize that what is at the core of both of these issues is being unclear about who my audience is. Who am I writing this thing for? This usually means that the audience I end up writing for is this fuzzy, amorphous sampling of the tech internet. One moment I am writing for myself, the next I have my twitter audience in mind, a paragraph later I'm trying to expand on this one idea in case there are readers who are unfamiliar.

And this isn't inherently a bad thing -- I'm trying to make my writing accessible and interesting for a broad audience. That's admirable, right? Yes, but it has a consequence for my writing. It affects how I write, what I write, and how easily that writing comes.

So, if audience has such a big impact, then let's acknowledge that and play with it.

Start Small

Experiment with your audience a bit and see how it affects your writing. Start with an audience that you can get sharply in focus.

Try writing something just to yourself. Make this a deliberate practice. For a short period of time, like a month, try writing a 200 word email to yourself daily.

Try writing something aimed at a specific coworker. In fact, if you know of a colleague that would be interested, you could start an email exchange, writing to each other daily about topics that interest both of you. This is a fantastic way to create a flywheel for yourself.

Think of a friend who doesn't know anything about the domain you are writing in. Try writing to them. Notice how your approach changes when all kinds of assumed domain knowledge goes out the window.

Scale Up

Then try scaling up your audience a bit.

Write something with all of your coworkers in mind. If you're a Rails developer, try writing a 201 article aimed at intermediate Rails developers. Envision an ideal audience for your email newsletter and then write to them. Revisit a past piece of writing and refashion it for one of these audiences.

As you turn the knobs of your audience, take notice of how it affects your writing. Does your writing voice change? Do the words come more easily? Do you feel like you need more or less editing and revision? What else feels different?

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Josh Branchaud

@jbranchaud

I'm a developer and consultant focused primarily on the web, specializing in React, Ruby on Rails, and PostgreSQL. Newsletter: https://tinyletter.com/jbranchaud

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