Read Strunk & White, Poynter or Zinsser, and you’ll emerge with at least one common tip for improving your writing: know your audience.
Which, for most documents, is undoubtedly good advice. Penning a Sunday Style article (seriously, Barbara, it’s almost finished), a business proposal or a birthday card, it helps immeasurably to keep the eventual reader firmly in mind.
With this blog, however, audience-focused writing is a much harder trick to pull off. Not solely because I have absolutely no idea who most of the thousand or two people who float through this site daily are, but also because the groups of people who I do know about are all looking for such divergent things.
Based on the posts that get linked on other blogs, or del.iciou.us bookmarked, it’s pretty clear s-a’s readership is composed of several, fairly distinct groups. There are the 43Folders-ites, thrilled by any mention of productivity hacks and Getting Things Done; there are the startup wonks, looking for entrepreneurial insights and tech business ruminations; there are the film folks, hoping to pitch Cyan (and now Long Tail) and looking first to unlock the secret that will get them cast or hired, or launch their screenplay into production; and then there are the large number of generalist voyeurs, the people hoping to live a bit of the disastrous New York dating life through my vicarious misadventures.
Since I know no single thing I write could make them all happy, I essentially don’t even try. I don’t balance out the flow of postings to make sure I cater regularly to each group, or even neatly section off one kind of writing from another. Instead, as they do in my brain, the thoughts all simply jumble up on the front page, intermixed, sometimes even within a single post.
But while I’m able to block from my mind (wisely or not) the varying groups of readers, I occasionally find myself writing to one single reader. I write, in short, knowing that I’m being blog-stalked by a potential date.
In my prior post, I said that I don’t seem to have a type, a regular pattern that emerges from my dating past. Which, in fact, is only partially true. When I last tallied my kissing count, I re-discovered something that I’ve long, at least subconsciously, known: I tend to like writers, especially those that self-reflect mercilessly, that pour their inner life onto paper (or screen). Which makes me, in short, remarkably good at developing crushes on fellow bloggers.
I say this all to preface admission of my own potential-date blog-stalking. In the world of business, I tend to obsessively research investors, clients and hires. Which has carried over to my personal life, where, especially in the case of other bloggers, I tend to follow along with new postings, to pore over bits of the archive, looking less for the what and more for the underlying why.
And, projecting perhaps, I tend to imagine that potential dates are doing the same thing. The contents of my archives are fairly immutable. But new postings – over that I have some control. So I tend to second guess my own ideas, question topics on which I might typically hold forth. I look at potential posts and wonder how they make me sound. Too dorky? Too neurotic? Too excited about the companies I’m trying to build?
Fortunately, I rarely pause long, as, in fact, I’m at least as dorky and neurotic and excited as my writing might imply. That’s just who I am. And while trying to hide that, even in the off chance that I could pull it off, might help me score a first, or even third, date, it certainly wouldn’t bring me to the the thiry-first or seventy-third.
Frankly, that’s a whole lot of work for a rather brief-lived payoff. So much of New York dating – the posing, the game-playing – it only works for that brief stretch when you have the interest and energy to put in the effort. Which is why, even during those stretches that I’m sure (rightly or wrongly) someone I’d really love to impress is reading along, I fall back on the same strategy for writing as I’ve gradually come to for real-world dates: stop trying so damn hard, stick to the truth, and hope for the best.
While, short-term, it’s probably not the most effective strategy (either for keeping readers or for getting laid), in the long run, it’s the only hope I’ve got.