When you picture your readers what springs to mind? For this blog, obviously most of my readers are classmates or a few Facebook friends willing to glance this over as a simple kindness. So there is some sense of who my audience is. However, in the realm of novels, articles, poetry etc. there is more of an ambiguity as to who the reader will be.
As a writer myself I have long struggled with the principle of audience. How do you find a way to know what people will think of your work? What perceptions can you gain of what others might think of your writing?
Around seventh grade, I really started to delve into my possible career as a writer. I would spend my free time in the afternoons and evenings typing away at a laptop my father had let me borrow. At the time, I didn’t really picture an audience. Sometimes I’d maybe imagine some vague far away figure reading my books one day but really the idea of audience was foreign to me. For the most part, I was writing to one person and one person alone. I was writing to me.
Now never mind that I was only twelve and my writing was terrible, there still was a huge issue in me not writing to anyone. All I was doing was pleasing myself. My imaginary worlds with aging wizards, lost princes, magical swords, moody elves and untold evil were written in a way that was enjoyable to myself and not thinking of others at all. I of course needed to branch out and learn more about the real world of writing. And I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity in my ninth grade year.
It was quite random actually. After one of my finals was over I was bent over a scrap of paper furiously scribbling away at a random chapter when someone noticed me. I was startled as a note slid its way onto my desk. I unfolded, read it through, and jotted down my response.
Essentially the girl sitting beside me had asked what I was writing. I handed back a note with an explanation. I expected it would end at that. My eighth-grade year had been filled with taunts for my continual scribbling; my nerdy tendencies that sometimes rendered me antisocial.
Instead she shocked me by writing back to say she thought was cool and had some stories of her own. We finished off the school day passing back and forth a piece of paper with different story ideas. I had no idea that the girl would become one of my closest high school friends and probably my largest inspiration to date.
My sense of audience changed immensely that year. A few other friends also began to inquire about my writing and I reluctantly began to share. I was encouraged and given advice. And for once I was putting faces into the crowd of my audience. My writing flourished.
The girl who had written the note in ninth grade was my constant source of inspiration and consultation. I daily shared ideas or snippets of writing with her as she did with me. In time I was abandoning the books I had started back as a seventh grader and working to find something that was more pleasing for my audience to read. I incorporated humor I knew she would find funny, found ways to make her sad (killing good characters can certainly do that to friends) and enjoyed the compliments she gave me.
Of course, all good things come to an end eventually. The high school friends who had once encouraged and read my writing gradually became busier and couldn’t keep up with it. Friend after friend would give up with the simple explanation: “it’s good. If you get it published, I’ll read it then. I just don’t have time right now.”
I do not blame my friends. They were helpful at the time and gave me encouragement to get me started. Still, the loss of my audience caused the death of a few of my story plans. And still more died as freshman year of college came round and we all went our separate ways.
My audience is blank again. I haven’t faced this challenge since eighth grade and for once I am at a loss as to how to continue. Without faces can I really strive forward? This year has been a challenge and I know I am unlikely to find new people to read my works with the business of college life. And so as I start trying to get back to typing down my ideas I have to simply figure out new methods. How do I put faces into a crowd? All my life my crowd has had real faces (at least my own if no one else’s). I have yet to find a true answer to that but I think with time and progress I can again start facing the discouraging process of figuring out just who my readers might be.