I bake bread. I’m not really a baker, but I do have a weekly ritual that involves baking two loaves of the infamous no-knead bread pioneered by Jim Lahey of Sullivan St. Bakery in NYC. It’s simple; it tastes good; I’ve probably made 300 loaves now, so the recipe has mutated into something I like. Anyway, that’s why I read this post when nytimes/bitten linked to it. It’s about Samuel Fromartz, a writer and amateur baker whose bread just beat out all comers, pro and amateur alike, for best bread in Washington DC.
Mr. Fromartz is, like I said, a writer by trade, so it shouldn’t be surprising that when he talks about baking bread, I find he’s also talking about writing (heck, he’s also talking about watchmaking or quilting or any kind of craft). I think this paragraph is particularly interesting:
The lowest common denominator may do wonders for a business, but it has never been the path to greatness. Working in my kitchen, I never had to worry about that. My only customer was the ideal loaf that I had tasted on occasion and had in my head. All I had to worry about was to do better next time. [My emphasis.]
He’s talking about creating something an audience of one, judged against an internal ideal—a personal vision of what the thing should be. This stands in opposition to what he describes in the previous paragraph where a famous French baker’s wholesale customers rejected his best baguette, preferring something more “dumbed down.”
I encourage authors to think about their audience all the time, and I stand by that assertion. I encourage them to look to their peers’ books and understand their appeal, and I’ll continue to do that. This is a business after all. But it’s also art, of course, and it helps to be reminded that the personal vision of what is good should never be ignored. Sometimes you have to forget the audience and the competition and think about Fromartz’s “only customer.”