This Is Why You Can’t Predict Your Audience

2014 Artwork Why You Can't Predict Your Audience Sketch

If you put your art and/or writing on the internet, then I’m sure that you’ve probably experienced something like this before. In fact, you’ll probably laugh knowingly when you read the next three paragraphs.

Yes, I’m talking about the times when you’ve had a brilliant moment of inspiration and then poured a lot of time and energy into making something amazing. It’s your best work yet and you can’t wait to put it out there on the internet.

You can’t wait to see lots of people gasping with astonishment at how fantastic it is and not only eagerly sharing it with everyone that they know, but also leaving comments below it saying how you are one of the greatest artists or writers of this century.

But, of course, it actually only gets something like three views. Not only that, as if to add insult to injury, that embarrassingly badly-written piece of slash fiction you wrote six years ago or that badly-drawn piece of fan art you made four years ago pulls in literally hundreds of views – it’s your most popular piece of work. It’s the piece of work that, statistically, is the greatest thing that you’ve made.

It is a sad, but universal, truth that you can’t second-guess your audience. This is especially true on the internet.

In one way, this is because everyone is a unique individual with their own unique tastes and you can’t know in advance what the tastes of hundreds of complete strangers on the internet will be. But, I think that there’s another reason for this too.

When we write, draw or paint what we consider to be our best work – we put a lot of ourselves into it. We mine the depths of our imaginations for the best treasures that we can find and then we put them onto paper or onto our computer and then we broadcast them to the world.

Because the best things we create come from the best parts of our imaginations, they mean a lot to us. They seem almost divinely-inspired, beautiful and profound – and they are. But only to us.

Yes, your best story might be technically well-written or your best piece of art might contain an astonishing level of detail, but it will only feel truly beautiful or profound if the audience has a similar imagination or similar experiences to you. And, since there are only six or seven billion people on the planet, the chances of that are slim.

But, when we’re feeling uninspired or uncreative, we just tend to create things which are inspired by “cool” things that have been made by other people. We tend to go for general things (eg: painting natural or urban landscapes) that we think will appeal to other people in order to stave off that creeping feeling that we’re “failures” because we aren’t feeling highly creative at that particular moment in time.

Because we make more general and/or generic things when we feel uninspired, they tend to appeal to a wider audience. Yes, we might think that they’re the most boring and pointless things that we’ve ever made, but lots of other people will think “Wow! That’s cool! It reminds me of…” because there are lots of other similar things out there that they can use as a point of reference.

Yes, it’s a huge paradox. I know.

Does this mean that you should never create profoundly amazing things that really amaze you? No. It doesn’t.

Does this mean that you should only ever create generic and derivative things? NO!

The best way to think of this is as a cycle of some kind or another. Once you understand how this cycle works, creativity will be a lot less stressful for you.

So, here it is:

You produce amazing stuff to fulfil yourself and you put it out there – very few people are interested. This lack of interest shakes your confidence as a writer and/or artist, so you feel less inspired. Since you feel less inspired, you can only produce generic stuff that more people can relate to.

This generic stuff is wildly popular and this popularity makes you feel better about yourself as an artist or writer. So, feeling better, you start producing amazing stuff again and the whole cycle begins again….

It’s that simple.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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