Stephen King on finding your ideal reader.

Written by Cole Schafer


There isn’t a snowballs chance in a microwave that we’ll ever write as brilliantly as Stephen King.

However, if we study his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, we might be able to walk away with some of the King of Horror’s literary magic clinging to our fingertips. 

You might find that Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird have a similar effect.

In King’s only piece of nonfiction, he shares toolboxes full of helpful tips and tricks to improve our writing, one of which can begin improving the words we put to paper immediately.

The ideal reader.

In his book, On Writing, King explains to the reader one of his secrets to writing spell-bounding (at times blood-curdling) fiction…

He writes all of his books to his wife, Tabitha, a splendid novelist whose taste he obviously admires. She is what King refers to as his “ideal reader” or “first reader”…

“I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, ‘I wonder what she will think when she reads this part?'“

The only critique I would make to King’s advice is to exchange the word “novelist” with “writer” –– anyone who writes anything, whether its advertising copy, poetry or the next great American classic should be writing to someone; a very specific someone.

Finding your someone.

Anne Lamott would very poetically tell you to be patient as you look for your ideal writer, which is sound advice.

But, I also think it’s worthwhile to write to someone in your life (or perhaps someone not in your life) whose taste you deeply respect.

For me, this changes depending on what I am writing.

When I’m writing advertising, I’m writing to David Ogilvy. While I obviously never knew him, I deeply admire the work he put out.

So, when I’m coming up with a clever tagline or writing copy for a website or what have you, I will ask myself… would Ogilvy have liked this?

When I write poetry or some sort of creative writing, I write to my brother Trey or my best friend Ian or a woman I am romantically involved with (if I like her taste).

And, that last line is what all this comes down to.

Whether you’re a brand writing to a sea of customers or a writer writing to hundreds of readers, you should choose one person whose taste is incredible; and write to them and them alone.

The rest of your readers will understand. In fact, there is a very good chance they’ll think you’re writing to them.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.