For What Audience

The longer I spend practicing the craft of writing, the more I find that I’ve internalized parts of the process, leading to an increasingly fluid experience. I think this is fairly common. This is especially noticeable when you begin to find your style.

For many years, when I wrote, I was really performing a high-level mimicry of whoever my most dominant literary influence was at the time. I’m not sure whether multiple pastiches have melded along imperceptible lines, or whether I’ve developed something unique. But I’ve certainly noticed that I now have more of a unique voice. Falling into that voice, or style, becomes easier the more I exercise it, freeing up more energy to improve in other areas.

One of the most essential components of a fluid style is having an idea in your head of who you’re writing for. I have to admit, I’d all but forgotten to think about this — maybe I’ve internalized it sufficiently, more likely I’ve just let it lapse.

I’ve just finished reading a great little book on writing poetry (How To Write A Poem: A Beginner’s Guide — I’d recommend it to anyone interested in writing or understanding poetry better) and I found the following passage a great reminder:

The nature of poetry is that it should be shared with others and so, to that extent, it is always useful to have in mind an imaginary audience: someone, or a group of people, to whom we are writing or that we hope will read our poem once we have finished writing it. Even if we never end up showing our poem to someone else, it’s still a good discipline to write the best we can for that ethereal but sympathetic entity: the imaginary audience. It focuses what we are writing, eradicates the compulsion to babble or gush with excess emotion and, more often than not, makes the finished product more pleasing and accomplished than it would otherwise have been.

Sure, this is about poetry, the most tightly coordinated kind of writing, but I think it applies with equal measure to other areas. Writing for the web, writing a novel, even writing an email — do we think about our audience? I’d wager that in most cases it’d be startling to realize how little mind we pay to what should be the most essential of variables.

Even if you never show it to anyone else. Or, to turn that on its head a little: even if you write solely for your own pleasure, with no one other than yourself in mind. The ideated version of yourself that you are writing for is still an audience.

This is one of the great benefits of writing on a site like this one: the audience is almost immediately able to participate in a discussion. I’m no longer writing for myself only, nor am I writing for uncaring giants. I’m writing — to the best of my ability — for you.

And who are you writing for?