Beware the Audience!

I’ve been writing for a long while now, and over the past twelve years, I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of my words go to print.

Knowing that I will have at least a few readers is almost entirely wonderful. I always dreamed of sharing my stories, so as corny as it is, every time I’m published, it’s a bit of a dream come true. It’s inspiring—At least one person (the editor!) feels my thoughts are worthy of being read . . . It’s motivating—Oh, rats. I can’t watch The Office Season 3 all day and night again. My fill-in-the-blank-with-current-project is due. (Deadlines = this writer’s best friend.)

There is a downside to knowing you have an audience, though—and it’s a sneaky one, one I hadn’t known I was affected by until yesterday when I was journaling about the past year. I was mid-scribble in my private notebook, when I realized I was holding back, just a bit. I was writing about the parts of my life readers might be interested in, instead of all the myopic navel gazing stuff that’s only important to me.

I was candid. I whined. But I was candid, politely. I whined only in a philosophical, interesting way, not in a full out temper-tantrum-brat way (and I wish it was because I’m more inclined to be philosophical and interesting than beastly, but no, that’s not it at all).

I found myself editing my thoughts before I spilled them, consciously choosing a synonym if I’d just used the word I was about to scrawl down.

And it hit me—Beware the Audience! Don’t let the fact that you might have readers keep you from saying what you need to say. It is crucial to get what you’re thinking, feeling, observing out on the page in the ugliest, most uncensored way. And likewise, sometimes you just need to spill Pollyannaish clichés of joy and happiness out in ink.

Writers who want to share stories, poems, ideas, and thoughts with others have to consider their audience. (Hello, Punctuation and Word Choice. Greetings, Grammar Conventions! Good-bye, Incoherent Ranting. See ya, Said-that-twenty-times-already-aren’t-you-over-it-already. Put on a towel, Too-much-information-girl.)

However, writers who want to have stories, poems, ideas and thoughts to share must have times when they completely ignore the possibility of there ever being a reader. They have to write things that make them cringe, things that they burn, literally, once they’re out on the page. Or at least I need to.

I have to get out the junk, so that the things I really wonder and care about are freed from the mire of everyday stuff. The process is akin to wading into my closet and weeding through a whole bunch of things that are out of season, that I want to keep but don’t wear anymore, that I’m holding onto for someone else, to get the one item that’s perfect for right now.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this topic. Does thinking about potential readers freeze you or inspire you? Can (should!) a writer ever fully forget the possibility of an audience?

8 thoughts on “Beware the Audience!

  1. Some one else asked that very same question today. I honestly think you need to be true to yourself and the story. The good, bad and ugly, if it’s part of the story needs to be there. That’s if it truly belongs and only you, the writer knows that. I think some people do try to write the story that they think others expect or want but is that being true to yourself? And in the end isn’t it better for you to be happy with the story you’ve written? After all it is your story one that is unique to you..

    I say be authentic!! Be who you are in real life and on the page..

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  2. For a journal/diary, I say have at it! Who cares if you become famous and your children publish your diary and everyone think you’re insane? You’re famous! They want you to be insane! 😉

    For me in my fiction writing, I think that considering the audience can have an excellent effect on the quality of the writing I produce. But of course that means it’s more difficult, because quality writing is just going to be more difficult to produce, no matter what. But still, if I don’t consider an audience at all for fiction I find myself getting lazy and coming up with stuff I won’t ever use.

    All writers are different, but for me I want to remember my audience. I just try to see it as a carrot to follow instead of a whip from behind.

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  3. Dear Laura,

    Thanks for commenting.

    “I think some people do try to write the story that they think others expect or want . . .”

    Yes, weird, eh? I wonder if it’s because most of us learn to write in school, so we become geared to trying to meet expectations? I know I’ve had to unlearn some bad habits picked up in classrooms.

    “And in the end isn’t it better for you to be happy with the story you’ve written? After all it is your story one that is unique to you.”

    Yes, exactly.

    🙂 Ev

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  4. Dear Jen,

    “Who cares if you become famous and your children publish your diary . . .”

    GAH–this is my biggest fear (not the famous part–not much chance of that). I need to be able to write with the surety (at times) that no one will ever read it ever. I actually do advocate burning some things . . .

    >>>For me in my fiction writing, I think that considering the audience can have an excellent effect on the quality of the writing I produce.<<<

    I know what you mean and a writer who plans to publish is remiss in not thinking of his/her readers, but even in my fiction I find there are times when I have to say, "There won't be a reader. Don't worry. You can delete this scene after you get it out . . . No one need see it, ever." I usually end up realizing that no, the scene needs to stay in, but to deal with the discomfort of some issues, I have to give myself permission to chicken out. If that makes any sense . . .

    I realize I am a bit psycho in my need for . . . what? A sense of safety or curtains or something.

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  5. It does make sense, and I like it: the permission to chicken out. That’s not psycho at all.

    No postmortem on your writing journals? Does this mean I can’t go through your stuff if I outlive you? Harrumph. 😉

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  6. Nice post, Ev.
    For me, writing a draft has to be done uncensored. If I feel my inner editor stepping up saying, NO, don’t write that. I silence him (why, oh why would I imagine my inner editor as male?). Yet, when re-drafting, I think of myself as the audience and know there are certain things that I would not care about as a reader so I slash them. Does that make sense? It is as if I begin as a writer, but then become the reader.
    Yet, fear of not pleasing others with a particular element cannot be why I choose to ommit. I wrote a short, one of my very first, and it was about racism. I wrote it for a competition and wondered why I am writing this, no one will want to read this. Plus, if won, it was the be read on CBC. I was certain it had no chance at all, not because of quality but because of content. Yet, I wrote because it was the story that came to me, and it won. I learned a lot from that.
    Sorry for such a long reply.

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  7. Dear Jennifer,

    I’m glad you liked this post and never apologize for a long reply–I love long replies! 😉

    “writing a draft has to be done uncensored . . . when re-drafting, I think of myself as the audience and know there are certain things that I would not care about as a reader so I slash them. Does that make sense?”

    Totally.

    “It is as if I begin as a writer, but then become the reader.”

    That’s a really good way to explain it–your process sounds similar to mine.

    And lol about your inner editor being male–I’ve read suggestions that inner critic voices are based partially on voices from our past, but I don’t know. I think mine switches gender and occasionally borrows from Jimminy Cricket. 😉

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