As I write, even a first draft, I am constantly thinking about two things: quality and reception. These are absolutely the WRONG things to be thinking about while drafting, for all sorts of reasons, but they happen beyond my control. The best I can do is just continually dismiss them, moment after moment.
Issues of quality are most easily dismissed by thinking about revision. The length of that scene, the quality of that dialogue, the cliche in that description–when revision rolls around, all of that can be gone. For now, it’s just about staring into the face of your inferiority and screaming, “I don’t care! I’m writing anyway!”
Issues of reception–audience reaction–are the most ridiculous thing to think about early on in a draft. Whether people you know will like it, whether the main character is likable, what publishers and reviewers might think of it… They are so far from the reality of what you’re writing now that it’s like worrying about how you’ll afford hover-fuel to get to your space job.
But, again, sometimes these thoughts pop into your head no matter how hard you try to avoid them, and the skillset worth learning is not how to block them from your mind (impossible) but how to deal with them once they are there.
And one trick to consider with issues of reception is to choose the right target audience.
I am blessed enough to have lots of people around me who are supportive and excited to read my work… except that none of them read the kind of books I most want to write (especially the exact subgenre I’m aiming for). That means that no matter how good my work is (and no matter how much they love me), they can never LOVE my work with the same passion that someone who enjoys the genre can. They won’t get the in-jokes or comparisons; they won’t find certain things fun or entertaining; and they’ll be holding up the work to completely different genres with different expectations and parameters. Especially for non-fantasy fans, dealing with worldbuilding and made-up crap can be like forcing someone to watch an opera in another language–if it’s just not their thing, they’re not going to enjoy it, no matter how well done.
There’s nothing wrong with different people liking different things, and there’s nothing wrong with not having anyone I know in mind who will like (let alone love) exactly what I’m doing–or aiming to do, once revision has its chance. But I find myself thinking about these real-life readers as I write, and possibly making adjustments for them. Downplaying certain elements, over-explaining, avoiding the more embarrassing factors that I view as fun, worrying about tone or character… I can usually stop myself, but that doesn’t mean the doubts aren’t there–and doubt is like a disease in drafting.
So I’m going to make an effort to create an imaginary target audience who loves my genre and could possibly love my work. Some writers suggest writing for yourself; others recommend crafting one specific imaginary reader; others may picture a particular demographic. Whatever works for you, try thinking of potential readers as the kindest and most embracing audience for your specific kind of work–and don’t worry about the rest.
Once the work is actually out there, you never know who might like it or what might happen. But it has to be written before it can ever be out there, and you have to fight through the doubts before you can start writing.
And the people who love you? They’ll still love you–even if they don’t love what you write. :)