Who Are You Writing For? (It Isn’t Really Either/Or)

I should turn that into a song, eh?

vegComes up sometimes in discussion boards: write for yourself and find artistic fulfillment, or write for your audience and sell books?

Here’s what comes up in the research of Chip and Dan Heath, experts in the brain science of decision-making: avoid either/or thinking when making decisions. Consider more than two opposing options.

Today, consider taking a page from CompSci (that’s computer science for the 99.9% of you who’ve managed to elude its evil grasp.)

But first, let’s make soup.

Compromise Soup

The family sits down to dinner one night and mom announces that she’s finally made the soup they’ve all been asking for. She lifts the lid on the tureen and voila!

It’s hot water.

“See, dear, I left out all the spices you don’t like. And look, Junior: no vegetables. And sweetie, I know you don’t want to eat little animals, so there’s no meat, either. Enjoy!”


Compromise can mean creating something which won’t offend anyone — by being so bland that no one likes it, either.


We use the word “average” in a mathematical sense to mean “add ’em up and divide by how many there are.” That is, the average of 3, 5, 7, 3, and 2 = 20/5 = 4.

Except in a mathematical sense, there’s no such thing as “average” — what we calculated above is the mean. We could also find an average called the “mode” — the value which appears most often on the list; in this case, 3. Or another average: the median, which is the value which is in the center of the list. Sorting them, we get 2, 3, 3, 5, 7 and the median is 3, which happens to be the same as the mode.

Forget all that. Point is that “average” isn’t always what we think it means.

Neither is compromise.

Unions and Intersections

When I started 6th grade back in the Jurassic period, they introduced what they called “new math.” Because nobody was prepared for it, not the students, not the parents, not even the teachers fer cryin’ out loud, it was rapidly pulled from curricula.

This was a tragedy of epic proportions, because that new math was the foundations of computer science and for understanding virtually everything about modern technology, including the web.

It’s also the source of another kind of compromise.

Let’s say we’ve got two groups of things. Oh, how about foods.

Over here are foods I hate. Over here are foods you hate.

We could make soup using none of those. We could end up in hot water.

That type of compromise matches the mathematical concept of a union: everything in the two circles gets ignored equally.

There’s another way: make two circles of veggies you and I love, and pick only from where they overlap.

If carrots are in my circle but not yours, we could leave them out and still have a soup I like, because it has peas and potatoes, which you also love. Your cauliflower, sweet merciful heavens, stays in the dark recesses of the fridge, but the sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms go right in.

Compromise Done Right

Sometimes I cook just for myself. It’s usually off-the-scale spicy and meatless.

When I make something only for Best Beloved, it will contain dairy, and not be overly adventurous.

When I cook a meal to share, I don’t ignore those two paths, I find what we both love and go there. It’s not disappointing because it’s not the kind of compromise where no one gets what they want, it’s the kind of compromise where everyone gets what they want: Covey’s proverbial win/win.

There are cases for ignoring fans and writing only for yourself. There are cases, fewer of them, for writing precisely what someone else wants to read.

There are infinite opportunities to write something you’ll love which will find an audience of folks who love the same thing.

4 thoughts on “Who Are You Writing For? (It Isn’t Really Either/Or)

  1. Good analogy, Joel. I just finished a bean and cheese burrito with freshly chopped jalapenos. Would I serve this to my seven-year-old daughter? Nah. My twelve-year-old son? With a warning and a challenge!

    I write and read on BlogTalk Radio at least one poem a week so that I make a practice of writing something that I just don’t care about somebody’s opinion. The rest of the week, it’s writing for hire, or researching my NaNoWriMo for this year.

  2. I started writing for myself because I became very tired of most of the literary junk out there. Lo and behold there actually were others out there who kind of liked what I wrote! The first one was my wife, then my circle of friends and then the public.

    Of course once I decided to make go ‘public’ I had to adhere to the protocols of writing and story engineering. I had to make it more palatable by adding salt to the soup and meat of course.

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