When writing, this question is always important to keep in mind. Who are you writing for? Who is your audience? What are you trying to do?
Your audience can determine how you write, affecting tone, word choice, pacing, and sentence structure. This is most readily visible in nonfiction writing. Technical writing is very different compared to academic writing. Blog writing will be very different from the previous two, e-mail writing is different, and texting is very different. These differences are not just the result of the medium, but also who you’re writing for. An email written to a professor will be very different from one to a parent, or one to a friend.
Not only will the writing style change depending on your audience, but the content of what you write will change. For non-fiction, this is generally easily visible, as you are not always in full control of what you write, limited by deadlines and reality. In fiction, however, you have far greater control over what happens, not limited by reality as much. Yet, even so, your audience still has a large effect on the content and other aspects of your writing, by changing what you, the author, find most important.
If you are writing for young adult audiences, for example, the language and sentence structure will be simpler, of course, but the content will also be less “adult” and the character arcs and plotlines will generally be less complex (I say “generally” because there are exceptions). If you are writing for sex-driven audiences, your content will generally have lots of innuendos and outright explicit sexual acts. In science fiction, consistency might be most important. In fantasy, your plot and quest arcs might be most important. Your audience plays a large role in determining your genre, and vice-versa.
But all of this assumes that the main reason for your writing is so that other people can read it and enjoy it. This is all well and good, but generally authors are also writing for an audience that I think many often overlook – themselves.
I am my own primary audience. I write books not for the express purpose of selling them and having others read them (though I do enjoy that greatly), but rather to get the stories out of my head and into an organized, tangible form. When I do that, I can relieve the pressure of bouncing ideas and move on. I write in order to express my ideas primarily to myself, and secondarily to the world. I would write even if I had no audience, just for the joy of the art and the magical act of turning ideas into a coherent narrative.
This is the reason that I write the way I do. I am not apologizing or making excuses here, I’m just telling it how it is. My editing process is scant for two reasons, both affected by the fact that I am my own primary audience: first, I want to be able to move on to new, hopefully better ideas (especially as I write primarily in one imagined universe that I try to develop ideas for by writing stories), and second because I am a strong believer in stream-of-thought and afflatus divine. Too much editing, I believe, can stifle the original message or idea.
Editing is definitely necessary, I don’t deny that, but I generally think that between one and three rounds of editing is sufficient. When I edit, I also don’t change plot, characters, or ideas extensively. Mostly I just look for clarity and accuracy, in order to maintain the original idea as it was in my head. I enjoy reading raw ideas from other authors, as well. The ideas and world creation make a story for me. When I write, then, it’s the ideas and the world that I emphasize above all else, because I am primarily writing for myself.
Every other author also writes for themselves, and I would argue that many of them also write for themselves first. Why else would they write? Writing isn’t exactly the most lucrative of careers, so those who get into it seriously tend to also enjoy it, and write not only for others, but for themselves as well. If you don’t write for yourself at all, I think you’re in the wrong field. So, even though you are writing to an audience of readers, always remember the real reason that you’re writing: because you enjoy it. Because it means something to you. The next time you are writing something and someone tells you to change something, stop for a moment and think. Does the change they suggest reflect heir story better, or yours? In the end, the story should be your story, not your audience’s. You write for yourself. Don’t sell yourself out by trying to write for someone else.
You are your own audience.