Discipline seems to be a key factor in successful writing. Yet, the kind of discipline that writing requires is hard to define. I enjoy the process immensely, at the same time that I find it hard work, and I often rant to myself about how poorly paid this exacting craft is, unless and until one produces a blockbuster.
To begin with, the discipline of writing requires a clear idea of one’s audience. Once upon a time I was an associate professor at a large state university and wrote for highly educated, specialized readers. That was fun but limiting. Now I write for a broader audience that I’m forever trying to visualize. Blogging is interesting because the audience is nigh unto impossible to define; so when I blog, I write for anyone who might have an interest in my topic and who is moderately curious and intelligent.
Lots of internet writing reads as if the writer were her own best (sometimes only) audience. That can make for good reading if the writer’s interesting and writes well, but alas! many are/do not. Journalists write in a style that’s largely defined by the profession, even when they blog. Since the general public is used to and expects the style, journalists rarely have to worry about audience, except when they’re writing special focus pieces. Novelists write for the audience that’s known to read the kind of novel they write. Yet the successful ones seem to attract people who aren’t part of that majority.
For example, Tom Clancy’s action thrillers exude an exceptional-male-in-his-prime aura, though older men, many women, and young people enjoy the read. Danielle Steele writes largely for women in a genre sometimes called “chick lit,” though she might find that characterization offensive. At any rate, some men also enjoy her work. And finally, the best writers appeal to anyone who enjoys quality; PD James is an example. Or, in a different genre, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, deemed a classic for diverse audiences, might also qualify as chick lit.
It’s easy to think of causes for diverse appeal. For example, maybe women read Tom Clancy because tough guys in action are sexy. And maybe some men think Danielle
Steele’ll give them an inside look at what women want. Whatever the reasons for diverse appeal, the skills that enable some writers to have it remain elusive. I’ll never be Tom Clancy, Danille Steele or PD James, but I admire them, and would like to know their secret.
For now, when I finish a piece, for example this post, I sit back and think to myself, “I’m a moderately intelligent internet regular who’s interested in the art of writing.” Then I reread the piece in role and see how it goes. Often this part of the exercise provokes revisions of vocabulary and syntax to attempt to meet my imagined reader’s expectations. If something in the piece seems unexpected, I ask myself how it strikes me in role. As I said, that’s what I do for now; in the future I’m going to keep chipping away at diverse appeal and maybe some day I’ll get it.