I’ve been re-reading Stephen King’s book On Writing. It’s an autobiography with a difference, although he maintains that it is more of a curriculum vitae. The difference is that he shows how life has prepared him to be a writer and how being a writer has affected his life since the age of about six, when he sold four stories at a quarter apiece to his mother.
There’s a lot of good advice on writing along the way. One thing he says is that every writer should have an Ideal Reader. His is his wife, Tabitha. He didn’t like Carrie, the main character of his first best seller, and his research for the book depressed him. So he threw what he’d written away. His wife rescued it from the wastepaper basket and read it. She told him that it had something and he should go on with it. He did, and it eventually sold for four hundred thousand dollars. Since then he’s always written with her in mind. When he’s completed his first draft he prints several copies of it and sends them to people he respects for their feedback, but it is Tabitha’s reaction that always takes first place. Personally, I wouldn’t like to send my first draft of a novel to anybody and I’d be surprised if anyone understood it if I did. Maybe I’d risk it on my third or fourth.
When I first read the book about twelve years ago I looked for my Ideal Reader in my family. But they were, and still are, all too busy living to read much. The only time they buy a book of fiction is when they’re going on holiday. Then I thought of a friend from the writing circle I belonged to. We’d both had a bit of work published and were both keen. In fact I was so keen I wrote and sent her several short stories, but stopped when I realised that I wasn’t getting anything from her, and that her latest short story was a clone of one I’d written. Admittedly she’d made a better job of it than I had, but the plot was mine. So I ended up writing for a mythical editor who just loved my work. He wasn’t much good either.
I now realise that since joining Writers Abroad I’ve got not one, but seventeen Ideal Readers. I’m so lucky. But I’d really like to know. Does the Ideal Reader concept work? Have you got one you trust above all others? Who do you want to please when you write?