In chapter eleven of the instructional section of Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft —the only King book I’ve ever read—, he expresses his belief in an unattributed notion that “all novels are really love letters aimed at one person”; more specifically he expresses a belief that “every novelist has a single ideal reader.” He goes on to say that while writing, an author will think of one particular person while considering the quality of their work, that they hold this one reader in their mind —at times consciously, but I’d think largely unconsciously— as they construct their sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. He says that his single reader is his wife, Tabitha. And this notion got me thinking.
I don’t have an ideal reader — or not a real one. I don’t think of my brother or a parent, nor a dear friend or an ex-girlfriend. I’m no novelist, and I am only twenty-five —I’ve got plenty of time to acquire my own ideal reader— but for my purposes, I’m still writing, and I realized that I’m still thinking about someone. It’s just that she’s imaginary. And I do say she; she is a woman. I suppose she’s like a wife: she likes me, she’s patient with me, and she seems to be in it for the long haul. Most importantly, she’s a fan. She’s read all of my work, she has an encyclopedic recall for the details of it. She’s knows where I started and where I hope to go — she’s borderline obsessed with me. I know I can trust her as a reader because she calls me out on things I already had a sneaking suspicion needed to be changed. She’s pretty great.
Prompted by a friend admitting to me recently that, although they enjoy my writing, they unfortunately are getting too busy and don’t expect they’ll be able to keep up with it —in fact, they’ve already fallen behind—, I imagined losing my ideal reader. What if she wasn’t there, waiting for my next piece? A sense of panic hits me. My gut says to find someone else to write for, but I know that’s not the answer. Some sadness also sets in. Where did she go? And why did she lose interest? I’m left deflated, thinking what’s the point. Bigger than that, why did I start writing in the first place? It’s funny, the next instinct is to get petty: keep writing, write my best stuff, so that when she comes back, she’s disappointed seeing what she’s missed. Write in spite of her. That’s not the answer either. I’m supposed to say that I would write for myself, write for the pure joy of the craft. That wouldn’t be completely true. Although I take pleasure is placing words in a specific order, I’ve always been a bit of an exhibitionist, a performer. I think if I knew no one would ever see any of my writing, I might not do it, certainly not as much.
Ultimately, I said it: my current ideal reader is imaginary — she can’t leave. Many more friends could admit to me that they aren’t reading my letters, many more data points could show a dip in readership, and I’d still write for the imaginary woman. If you took her away, she’d replace herself. I write for my future self, I write for the real single ideal reader that I’ll have one day, I write to achieve the level of quality I aspire to. I write because there is still at least one story I have to tell.
Ponder your motivations,
B.F. Greeno, aka
just getting started