There was a fantastic op-ed piece by Michael Cunningham in this past Sunday’s New York Times, a must-read for anyone who wants to write. While ostensibly a piece about translation, Cunningham brilliantly articulates how writing is not an act of solo invention, and how it’s crucial not only for writers to recognize that they’re writing for an audience, but to identify specifically who that audience is as well. It’s a secret that successful genre writers know instinctively, but I’ve never seen it so neatly laid out for the general reader.
And I was particularly struck by how Cunningham improved his art through learning to write for an audience of one, namely Helen the hostess at a restaurant bar where he used to work. On first glance, it seems to go against common sense—I always assumed that even if you’re writing for a specific audience, like mystery fans or teen readers, you want to create something with broad enough appeal for all members of that audience. But then again, as Cunningham suggests, targeting a specific reader like Helen might actually create a more intimate conversation between author and reader and, hence, result in a better piece of work.
Obviously, there’s no right or wrong answer here, but again, kudos to Cunningham for framing the issue in such an elegant and accessible piece. No wonder this guy won a Pulitzer!