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How to Overcome Writer's Block by Knowing Your Readers

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Was talking with a talented and successful writer about a new book she was working on. She was looking for how to overcome writer's block and quit procrastinating so she could get the thing done. So I asked her one, seemingly simple, question:

"Who do you see reading your book?"

Silence on the other end of the phone line.

In my book coaching work, when I experience awkward silences in reply to the "reader" question, I realize that not being able to immediately answer this question means that this might be the primary writer's block keeping the writer from moving forward.

Why is answering this so difficult? And how can writers get over this?

Self Expression versus Communication and Connection

Art—and writing IS art—is self expression. For writers of all types and skill levels, the opportunity to express what is in their hearts and heads—in whatever way strikes their fancy—can be a very freeing and fulfilling experience which should not be discouraged or discounted.

However, the difficulty comes in when these writers want to then sell and share their work. Creations with primarily personal significance may be misunderstood by large segments of the population. Frustration ensues, sales are non-existent and these writers feel as though no one understands them (they got that right!) and they just give up.

The writer's block, hesitation and confusion these writers feel can be symptoms of a much larger problem of not knowing how to communicate and connect with their readers since they don't know who their readers are in the first place (and sometimes don't care).

Once you have your ideal reader profile complete, get a picture of this ideal reader in your head every time you start writing.

— Heidi Thorne

9 Questions to Build Your Ideal Reader Profile

Writers hoping to actually sell their work should create an ideal reader profile for the entire body of work and/or a specific work, such as a book, article, etc. This is really Marketing 101! And, yes, it applies to BOTH nonfiction and fiction writing.

To help build your reader profile and understand how it can affect what and how you write, answer these questions about your reading audience:

  1. What is their gender... and what is yours? Although much writing may be gender neutral, that whole "Mars and Venus" gender communication theory can be very real if your work appeals more to one than the other. Also, if you're writing for the opposite gender, you might have to switch roles in your head.
  2. What are their ages? This is a multi-part question. First, you need to know what age, in years, they are. Second, you need to know in what generation they are. For example, writing a children's book is a completely different experience than writing a suspense novel for adults. And writing for Baby Boomer teenagers was definitely different than writing for Millennial teens.
  3. What is their likely educational level? In addition to age, educational maturity will affect the style and vocabulary of what you write. More educated audiences tend to have vocabularies that are wider and more erudite (yeah, they'd understand that word).
  4. What are their roles, professions and/or industries? Even if their job is something such as "mom," everyone has a role or a job in this world. This will determine what types of written material may be of interest to them.
  5. What are their core values? What people believe colors how they understand and interpret what they read, regardless of what the writer intends. If you don't know how your audience might respond, be prepared for anything from "meh" to a maelstrom.
  6. What are their personality traits? Is your audience fun loving, serious, fearful, energetic... the list could go on and on. Try to come up with at least a few words or phrases that would describe your audience's common personality traits.
  7. Where do most of them live? In some locations and cultures, there are topics or ways of saying and doing things that are completely taboo. Like core values, disrespect these and you might repel, or even offend, your readership.
  8. What are their hobbies and interests? Whether it's biking, stamp collecting, history or cooking, what people do for recreation or avocation affects their lifestyle, sometimes as much or more than what they do for a living. It may also influence, or be a result of, their core values.
  9. What are their pain points? This would be a follow-up question to the last four. As a result of what your audience does and believes, what concerns are uppermost in their minds? Can you address, or at least be respectful of, those concerns in what you write?

Put Your Ideal Reader Profile to Work with these 2 Questions

Once you have your ideal reader profile complete, get a picture of this ideal reader in your head every time you start writing and ask yourself:

  1. How would I say this to my ideal reader if I could speak to him/her in person?
  2. How would he/she likely feel about, or respond to, what I just said?
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2015 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 02, 2016:

Happy New Year kalinin1158! You are so, so right! Because we often believe that writing is art, we think of it as a solitary activity. But it's really communication. Yes, imagining talking to your best friend (or best customer) is an awesome way to write for the reader. Thank you so much for starting your New Year here! Cheers!

Lana Adler from California on December 29, 2015:

You make such a great point. I can relate to having difficulty formulating my viewpoint because I'm having trouble imagining who my reader is. I've read somewhere before that you should think of your best friend, and just imagine that you're writing/speaking to them. Either way, I think if you're not thinking of the reader, it makes for some disconnected writing. Great hub, and happy new year!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 17, 2015:

Hello again, breathing! Indeed, questions are the key to banishing writer's block. Thanks for the support!

TANJIM ARAFAT SAJIB from Bangladesh on December 15, 2015:

There is hardly any writer in the world who does not go through writer’s block. This is very natural. Different kinds of writers opt different methods for coming out of this block. But the method that the author has suggested is really appreciable. If you know your writers then you will know most of the time what to write next. At least you will have an idea. The author has posed such questions regarding the readers that there is no confusion left about which a writer going through writer’s block can hesitate to think about. If the reader can answer sort out answers of this questions at a frequent basis then he/she will rarely face the block.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 02, 2015:

Hi Larry! Thanks for the kind comment. Hope you're having a wonderful holiday season so far. Cheers!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on December 01, 2015:

Great tips.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 28, 2015:

Hello Venkatachari M! Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for your kind comments and have a beautiful weekend!

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on November 28, 2015:

Very useful information. Your tips are great with simple questions.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 28, 2015:

Hi FlourishAnyway! No doubt! Once writers can understand who their audience is, it can make writing so much easier and more effective. I agree, it's very surprising to see what trips readers' triggers through analytics. I'm sometimes scratching my head. :)

Thank you very much for taking a bit of your holiday weekend to stop by. So appreciate your friendship and support here on HP. Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving Weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 28, 2015:

Hi FatBoyThin! You're right, it is deceptively simple... yet so often overlooked. Thank you for your kind comments! Hope you're having a Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!

Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on November 28, 2015:

Great stuff - deceptively simple questions we all need to answer.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 27, 2015:

Folks need to READ and understand this hub in order to truly excel. What a brilliant hub you've written here. In looking at the Google analytics I am sometimes surprised at how my audience leans so I have tried to adjust accordingly.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 27, 2015:

Hey, billybuc! I'm sure it is! That's why I'm so honored you took the time to stop by. Hope you have a little time this Thanksgiving weekend to relax and enjoy. So appreciate your friendship and support here on HP!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 27, 2015:

My new part-time job is severely limiting my time to read I'm here to wish you a late Happy Thanksgiving, and to thank you for your friendship.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 27, 2015:

Reynold Jay, you're not alone! I see it happen for many writers. Hope you'll find it useful for your writing projects. Thank you for stopping by and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 27, 2015:

Hi purl3agony! It is a powerful and so overlooked concept for many writers. Although I have to say that your hubs are pretty spot on with your crafting audience. Glad you found it useful. Hope you're enjoying your Thanksgiving holiday. Thankful for your support and friendship here on HP!

Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on November 27, 2015:

Yep--I have never heard or thought of writing from this perspective. Well done.

Donna Herron from USA on November 27, 2015:

Wow! This is a really powerful concept. I bet most writers have never considered creating a profile of their target readers. But this exercise would certainly help shape and tighten my writing. Thanks for introducing me to this tool for my writer's toolbox!

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