I’ve taken writing workshops, in my pursuit of a college education, where each student is required to copy off twenty copies of their chapter or short story and pass it around for the rest of the class to read. Next week, you sit there, silently, while twenty people talk about your work.
It’s excruciating. Usually, you’re forbidden from talking. You can’t correct people when they get something wrong. You can’t redirect them when they start arguing over something that doesn’t matter at all in the story. You just listen, take notes, and try to absorb it all.
That kind of workshopping has it’s place.
Once I turned in a short story with a punchline. The character, it turned out in the final line, was Jerry Lee Lewis. Literally no one got it except me (of course) and the teacher. We were the only people in the room older than forty. That workshop taught me that my story would fall flat with younger readers.
I also once wrote a short story that was a retelling of the Resurrection story from the Bible. Again, the teacher was the only other person who got it. She loved it, though, so it didn’t matter as much to me that the other students didn’t understand where I was going.
For that story, my teacher was my One Reader. Stephen King would call her a Constant Reader.
You can’t write for everyone. You also can’t write by committee. If you try, you’re going to make yourself crazy.
You also don’t have to have an actual person who is responsible for everything you write. (That’s a lot of pressure. For both of you.)
Who is Your Constant Reader?
Just think of who that One, Constant Reader is. Imagine that you’re on Criminal Minds and build a profile. Here are some questions to get you started. You might have a different One Reader for each book you write.
- How old are they?
- Are they a man or a woman?
- What else do they read?
- What do they need in a book to be happy?
- What makes a book an auto-buy for them?
Here’s what my One, Constant Reader looks like, for my current work in progress (a Robin Hood retelling):
She’s either 15 or 35. She reads classic children’s literature like The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter and even though she probably wouldn’t say it out loud now, she read the whole Twilight series. Twice. She likes a strong romance in her stories, but the romance isn’t the main thing. (She totally picked a side in the Jacob/Edward debate though, and she reads fanfic just to dream about her ‘ships.) The next book in any series that she fell in love with is an auto-buy for her. She’s super loyal, but not the author. She’s loyal to the characters.
If you can find an actual reader that matches your One Reader, bonus. If they’ll actually read your work, double bonus! But it’s okay if you can’t. It still helps to know who you’re writing for.
Think about your One Reader today. Write up some details and come share them in the Facebook group.