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Who Is Your Reader?

Who do you write for? Who do you think of when drafting a post?

Many of us write for ourselves — we scribble our innermost thoughts in journals. We draft private blog posts. Or we write personal musings but don’t mind if our readers’ eyes fall upon them. But really, if you’re here on WordPress.com, you likely want to be part of something bigger: to make your voice heard and contribute to the conversation.

I recently wrote about my own struggle with blogging:

When I write with the intent to publish, when I write with the internet in mind — which is really all the time — the process is something else entirely. Something so different from the years I used to write in my journal, where I cleared the cobwebs and allowed my thoughts to stir in the same private space, over and over.

As bloggers, we set our words free with just the click of the Publish button, and oftentimes I think we conflate writing with publishing. When I’m drafting a post, it’s hard not to think about my readers — thousands of avatars amid a sea of pixels. Is this relevant and timely and now? Will this resonate? And then I freeze. Sometimes I delete the draft. Most of the time, I tell myself I’ll come back to it, and it ends up sitting in my dashboard. Forever.

In a post on the intrinsic value of blogging, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg talks about how blogging is harder than it used to be — that amidst obsessing over stats, counting Likes, and waiting for comments, we forget about what really counts, like genuine engagement, thoughtful interaction, and focusing on what you truly want to say.

Matt suggests simple, practical advice: write for two people. Write for yourself, and for one other person you have in mind, as if writing them a letter:

. . . when I get caught up in that the randomness of what becomes popular or generates commentary and what doesn’t it invariably leads me to write less. So blog just for two people.

On Twitter, I asked: When you draft a post, do you write with someone specific in mind? Who is your reader? Or do you just write? A few responses suggest many of you just write (and we love this hands-off approach):

But how can we make Matt’s advice work for us? What can we do? Andrea Badgley commented that when she feels stuck, she thinks about Amy, her friend of more than 25 years:

I write a letter to her in my journal. I write to two people — myself and Amy — and the freedom in that loosens the words.

Dorry-kun also suggests evolving from this and shaping The Reader in your head:

I was always writing to my girlfriend. Every single published word was aimed at her, because I thought she would be the only one to listen. It really helped me a lot.

I feel I have grown since then — I no longer write just for her. Nowadays I kind of switch between her and The Reader, an imaginary reader. I have no idea who he is. I just know he is male and reads my literary concoctions.

So, next time you sit down to write a post, ask yourself: who is your reader? Then, write your post with this person in mind. When you think about this specific individual as you write, you might find your focus is sharper, your voice stronger, and your writer self more confident.

I’d love to hear about your own muses: who do you write for? 

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  1. I write for the folks whose homes have been flooded throughout the years in Warren, Michigan. The folks who deal with a massive 126 inter-city sewage system around Metropolitan Detroit, Michigan. A system is archaic, crumbling and in need of $ millions of dollars in infrastructure rehabilitation. That is what drives me forward.

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  2. I write for me. I write in a kind of memo style to a third party self. I hope obviously that someone else would enjoy or think about my notes. Id be delighted if someone agreed enough to tell me they enjoyed them. But also, id be happy for someone to tell me they didn’t. Just as long as they explained themselves too.

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  3. We’re actually talking about this in class right now. When it comes to your blog, before you even create your first post, you should know who you are. If you don’t know why you’re writing it and who you want to be seen as, then you won’t have a true audience. When I began my blog just a month or two ago, I knew I wanted to share my intern experience with other interns and professionals in the world of public relations. Knowing who you are and who your reader on focuses the blog and conversation on what you need and want and really lets you get the most out of the blog experience.

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  4. So many tips on this blog are so useful in developing our blogs. I often print specific blog posts by WordPress. (I’m about to print this one.) Have y’all thought of putting a print button that would allow us to access a printer friendly version???
    Thanks so much.

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    1. Hi there — in the social sharing section at the bottom of the post the far-right icon with the arrow has a print button, but I agree it’s not so printer-friendly (and at 8 pages already (with comments, I believe?) it doesn’t seem so tree-friendly). Some printers allow you to strip the extra stuff and just print the text; although in general printing blog posts isn’t very common.

      We put together ebooks of our best stuff (currently the traffic and prompts ebooks, accessible in the sidebar, and soon our photography tutorials). Those formats, including PDFs, are better for reading/printing.

      Glad you like our posts enough to print/save/refer back to them. We’ll continue to put together ebooks that allow for better reading, both on screen and off.

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  5. I write about my interests and hobbies, of which there are several. Each has its own audience. and the audiences don’t overlap very much. I mix up the posts as much as I can among topic types so that the guy who reads me for my posts about vintage film cameras won’t be too bored by nine posts in a row about historic sites along the old National Road in Maryland. (I learned this the hard way, btw.)

    I’ve been blogging for seven years now (tomorrow, 2/7, is my blogiversary!). I’ve had a number of regular readers come and go in that time. For each of my typical topics, I have one or two specific actual readers, ones who have been particularly active in the comments, in mind and I write for them. They don’t know this! But in doing that I seem to slowly pick up other readers who like those posts.

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    1. This approach makes sense to me – writing for myself and someone else. As a recently-joined member of the WordPress family, I had wondered which topics (among the many that fitted with the purpose of my blog) I should post on. For me, learning more about my regular readers’ interests (by following their blogs) has perhaps led me to focus on some subject areas that we appear to have in common. They have also helped me learn more about blogging. I think I have probably been unconsciously writing for a few people, but that does include myself too!

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  6. Initially, I write for myself (and sometimes, when I get hung up on my “stats,” I think that perhaps I’m the only one reading the blog!). But, the way the blog has evolved, I switch among several different topics (the history of the Blues, History in general, Georgia history, teaching History), depending upon my mood or interest at the moment, so I expect the readership to be at least slightly different, depending on the theme.

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  7. Writing for oneself and another person is a splendid idea. I’ve spent too much time thinking, will they like what I write? And based on that I try to change my style which becomes something I dislike and end up trashing it. I’ll remember I’d write for me and my friend.

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  8. I started writing to tell stories and to be honest, I never really analysed who I was writing them for. I’m a new blogger and find it rather like a letter-writing adventure. When I blog, I do it to give my thoughts their own voice (they look so different written down than they sound in my head) though I’m always aware of the ‘someone else’ who might read them. The mysterious stranger who may, or who may not, let me know they’ve read my letters …

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  9. I write to figure things out for myself. I love aha moments and I like to share them! I’m often pondering “Laura, how can I really move the needle on my health, beauty, overall well-being, etc., etc.,” Often when I begin to answer that question I start writing a post in one direction thinking I know where it’s going to go, and I find something that completely changes my approach to the topic. I love that! That spark of “what will I find” is what gets me to the keyboard, and then there’s a second spark of realising that if I’m so excited about this thing I’ve discovered that really makes a difference to my life in a meaningful way then I’m sure other people will get a jolt of impact from it too!

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  10. I feel like I write best, my voice comes through most clearly, when I am inspired by something. It forces me to have a strong opinion and then I feel like I’m having a conversation with a good friend. The other stuff comes from within but seems to struggle more on its way out so I’ll try this approach. Great post. Thanks!!

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  11. I write to myself and to those who have been in or are currently suffering from domestic violence. I don’t write about statistics, the role of the abuser etc. I just write my story and in a way, reading what I have written reminds me of where I came from and where I go from here.

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  12. A teacher at heart, I want my reader to gain some information, insight, how-to or motivation to write and make their life better in some way. I try to wrap it up in humor by making myself the one who messed up and/or learned the lesson. Then there’s a chocolate recipe at the end. To sweeten the whole deal.

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  13. That is right:

    When I have someone specific in mind, words flow naturally.

    Otherwise one kind of swims in a sea of uncertainty.

    In my case, good writing derives from a dialogue.

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  14. I used to write to an invisible being, I suppose it was to another me. Last year I needed to write down some personal feelings and a friend lent me her ear (so to speak); basically a full journal of my thoughts for a couple of weeks with no judgment. This was really helpful, so sometimes when I write in my journal, it’s written as if addressed to her. To be honest, it’s not that dissimilar to my invisible being!

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  15. I write for myself and also to share things I’ve learned to hopefully inspire someone. I try to remember all the times I’ve come across something that have helped me to have a better day and how thankful I am the writer put it out there seemingly just for me!

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  16. I write with target audience in mind for parenting tips. But when it comes to my children’s development, it’s them whom I write for and how they think if they read it. I admit occasionally I will get affected by who’s reading what and I don’t add in details that put my kids in bad light.

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  17. I write to ink what I want to remember, and to be remembered by. Sometimes, I can’t verbalise what I want to say; I find it easier to write the thoughts that are running through my mind then speaking them out loud. But unfortunately, most of these posts end up in the blog trash..

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  18. I’m in high school, and blogging was initially very difficult because I felt like everyone had different opinions and would react in all sorts of ways to what I wrote. Then I realized that if I let their opinions dictate what I wrote, then I’d eventually get fed up with it and abandon my blog. In the end, I wrote what I thought for basically everyone on the internet, because I hope that anyone can relate to what I have to say, even if they disagree. That being said, however, I think I target my posts to speak most strongly to people my age. Teenagers. Adolescents. Young adults.

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  19. I write to be read, or to be understood. So, there is a conscious effort to “laymanize” technical language. For example, in writing about the cybercrime law here in the Philippines a few hours before the live streaming of the oral arguments in the Supreme Court, (surveillance of traffic data was a key component) — here’s what appears in the post: “Please open your personal computers, Justices. Then, open your internet window or browser. (Explorer or Google Chrome, etc.). There’s an icon on the right-hand corner that looks like three horizontal lines, or “Tools” or a wrench icon. Click this. It runs down a list of prompts. Click “History”. That’s your traffic data, Justices. xxx It shows what time you started to use the internet… what time you opened your computer, … what time you shut it down, what sites or sharing networks you visited, for how long, what time you emailed, the addressee, the subject title. For each day. Starting with most recent to oldest. In effect, it shows where you were and what you were doing at certain points of the day. xxx These data are made available to “law enforcement authorities” without any court order, without notice to you or anyone. xxx”
    A few days later, the cybercrime law was indefinitely enjoined or indefinitely stopped by the Supreme Court from being enforced pending further deliberation, for more than a year now. Here’s the rest of the post: http://marichulambino.com/2012/10/09/bullet-points-for-the-supreme-court-justices-en-banc-today-cybercrime-prevention-act/
    Happy writing, everyone!

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  20. Good question actually.

    Generally I would say I write for myself, but then when I actually think about that it isn’t strictly true, If I did that then I wouldn’t publish it on a blog, I would write it on a word document and save it on my hard drive, so I like interaction.

    But when I write my posts I don’t really think I have anyone in mind, what I write generally tries to convey how I feel at any given moment, or to get across a thought or opinion and although I want people to read that and be able to relate to it I don’t have specifics in mind on who those people are.

    Likewise these are the types of blogs I want to read in turn, just to see if I can relate to that persons memory, event, feeling etc.

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  21. I write for an audience of one…myself. If I’m not happy with it, I don’t push publish, I delete it. I never use draft except on the rare instances where I get interrupted while writing and have to come back to it later. Occasionally, my train of thought might derail mid-post, and I’ll have to save to draft to try and save the post later, but normally, that doesn’t work very well, so it usually just ends up getting deleted and I start over.

    As far as what others think, I’m ecstatic when others enjoy what I write, I thoroughly enjoy when I get comments on my posts, and obviously, I do want others to look at what I’ve written, or I wouldn’t be blogging, but I’m the one who has to live with the fact that I wrote the post, so if I’m not happy with it, it doesn’t matter how big of a hit it might have been with my readiers, I’m not posting it. Ultimately, I think the those who do read my blogs will understand and appreciate that fact as well.

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