I am fond of Kurt Vonnegut’s assertion that good writing is an act of “sociability.” He said he tried to teach his students “how to be a friend to a reader so the reader won’t stop reading” and “how to be a good date on a blind date with a total stranger.” (From The New York Times, 1999.)
Being a good date to the reader requires a kind of humility, I think, and an understanding that nobody really wants to read a book. (Or a newsletter or a blog post, or whatever.)
Perhaps paradoxically, Vonnegut suggested that one way to be a good date to a total stranger is to try to write for one specific person you know: “If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
Mary Karr writes something similar in The Art of Memoir:
You might ask, though, who are you writing for? Lots of people say, ‘I write for myself.’ I am way less cool. I tend to imagine a writer pal I look up to, maybe a former teacher; or my son; or even my dead priest. That helps me think clearly about what order information goes in… if you were telling a therapist or a friend at lunch, you’d know right away what data went where.
Here’s Stephen King in On Writing:
Someone—I can’t remember who, for the life of me—once wrote that all novels are really letters aimed at one person. As it happens, I believe this. I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of the story, the writer is thinking, “I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?” For me that first reader is my wife, Tabitha.
Vonnegut said that in hindsight he realized that he wrote everything he wrote for his sister, just trying to make her laugh…
(Come to think of it, this is why I suggest in Keep Going that if you’re stuck, you might consider making something for somebody specific in your life.)