Start with an audience of one

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. – Kurt Vonnegut.

I have mentioned this quote before. It just keeps growing on me. Creative writing at its best manifests when we write for our own selves. This is true of most art forms. A writer ought to write such that one of her clones would thoroughly enjoy reading her creations. A painter ought to paint to appeal to his innermost self. Master chefs are adept at tingling every taste-bud that a spoonful of their preparation touches.

On the face of it, this approach appears to be selfish. Would it not be better to have a wider approach and appeal to people beyond one’s own self?

However, this self-centric approach is adopted by Tim Urban, the prolific author of the Wait but Why blog. Tim’s method involves taking a difficult topic and try to explain it to a football stadium filled with replicas of himself. His aim is to be interesting and funny while appealing to the sensibility of this homogenous army straight out of sci-fi dystopia. Nevertheless, he has reached millions of people of all varieties, and helped them interpret a wide range of complex topics.

How does that happen?

1. Great art is universal in its appeal. Mozart and Beethoven are appreciated on every continent on the planet. We are all moved by the same great paintings. I do not follow any sport, but I love reading well-written sport stories, because their appeal transcends the bounds of their sport. At our essence, we are really not too different. The idea is to create something that appeals to this essence. And to start doing that, one might as well start with one’s self.

2. The internet brings us within reach of an audience which wants exactly what we produce. It offers us the busiest of street corners. It helps us start off by offering us a niche that is identical to us. As we get better, our creations would appeal to a broader audience. This has never been as easy in the past. The internet fills our football stadiums, provided we learn to create something worthwhile.

The question, then is not how to gather a following, but rather to become better at appealing to our innermost selves with our creation. Each one of us is the best crucible for our own creations. Once they are good enough, outreach becomes a consequence rather than deliberate effort.

Inspiration: Tim Urban’s interview on the Tim Ferriss Show podcast

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