Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa once compared the urge to write to a tapeworm: its presence is always felt, its host is always hungry. Once a victim to this affliction, you keep on devouring more books by like-minded spirits, and soon become lousy company because of that obsession.
The solution is to write. Get started, inspired or not. Only then will you discover that the tapeworm is your friend—one of the guises of your ideal reader.
However, heed our warning: this friend is not easy to please, and his friendship is not unconditional. You must earn it. Like a latter-day Sybil, he will utter gibberish unless you really get started. And it may well be that he’ll remain silent after you launch your story at last. Which is okay—at least for a while. You must offer him an abode in the confines of your writing. If you don’t, he’ll keep gnawing at your bowels, or he will act as an inner censor, deriding everything you do.
How to avert these horrors?
The answer is easy, but putting it into practice is not: try to listen to what your ideal reader has to say.
You may exert yourself to introduce the major characters in a novel or the grand theme of your essay; without realizing it, you may get so involved telling the story to yourself, or honing the argument to perfection, that you never give it a chance to speak back to you.
We cannot predict what your ideal reader will tell you, but he will prove a great help. As soon as you reread what you have just written, his voice will be audible. An ideal reader says things like: ‘That paragraph is boring’ or ‘Why don’t they kiss?’ Maybe, when in a fouler, more irritable mood: ‘That has been done before, think of something better.’ Or, in a more encouraging frame of mind: ‘I am enjoying that scene, why not linger for a while? Slow down the episode, will you!’
Like any friend, the ideal reader will not spare you. He will make short shrift of your noble intentions, like it or not. And like any friend, he may well be wrong. But whatever it is he whispers into your ear will be worth it, even when the comments are off base. It is then that you will discover with certainty that that some part of the episode demands attention and possible revision.
In other words, let the ideal reader be your guide while you are busily charting unknown territory. Praise him for it and cherish his friendship. It will become invaluable, once the world-in-words you offer him is to his liking.