Write for an Audience of One

Second to his investing brilliance, Warren Buffet is known for having a deep-rooted respect for clear communication within companies. His shareholder letters are so well written that they’re considered the gold standard for the medium.

Buffet’s secret: he writes with one of his sisters in mind. His sister, while highly intelligent, has little experience with investing. If he sees a passage that will confuse her, he knows he hasn’t written it properly.

Novelist Stephen King suggests the same approach. He pictures his wife combing through each line. Where would she become bored, laugh, be surprised, or skim? He knew the answer because he knew the reader. John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, and others have also advocated this approach.

  • “Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader.” —John Steinbeck

  • “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

  • “Writing to delight a single person whose tastes you understand is practical; writing to appease a faceless audience whose tastes you will never know is impossible.” —Gregory Ciotti

  • Christopher Buckley says that he senses William Zinsser perched on his shoulder like a parrot when he sits down to write. The parrot always says to look for needless verbiage.

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