Who Do You Write To?

Everystockphoto_224932_lThis morning I got up, grabbed my coffee, and went outside to write. (The days I'll be able do this are numbered and I'm taking full advantage while I can.)  I began writing about my day yesterday (2 Labor Day picnics = fun) and mentioned a couple people.  Then I explained who these people are.

Which got me pondering:

Who am I writing to when I write in my journal?  I'm obviously not writing to myself because I know these people.  So why take the time to explain to the page who they are?

Because I'm writing to an audience.  Even in my journal, apparently.  Which is not as surprising as it seems when you consider that writing is communication, and communication implies a sender (the writer) and a receiver (the reader).

In the case of my journal, perhaps the audience I'm explaining things to is the page itself.  I certainly don't glump my thoughts onto the page every morning with any expectation of people reading them.  Quite the contrary–I'd be one unhappy camper if anyone did.

All this brilliant obsessive morning writing led me to wondering about other audiences, aka, readers.  Who do I write to when I write? 

Who do I write to when I write my novels?  Years ago, I heard a novelist speak about her ideal reader.  She had envisioned a clear image of the average reader of her books and when she sat at her computer she visualized this reader.  Do you do this?  I have to admit that I don't. But when I think about it, sometimes when I'm writing I do have an audience in mind–my weekly critique group, the first readers of my work.  This is a fairly unconscious thing.  I have to really dig deep to realize when I'm doing this. 

So, good idea or bad to have an audience in mind while writing?

Perhaps the idea of writing to an intended reader could have a bad side if you're constantly thinking about how they will judge you.  When doing first draft writing, you really want to set your inner critic to work doing something else so that you can write.  Just write.  You want to do the work without judging, letting yourself fly wonderfully wild and free on the page.  (Doesn't that sound like fun?  I miss working on my novel.  I set it aside to finish the Emma Jean edits.)

And I can see a good side to keeping your readers in mind if you're beyond the first draft, and engaged in a more editorial type of work–rewriting and revising.  Perhaps you're keeping your ideal reader in mind because you want to make sure she keeps turning the pages.  Or you're keeping your audience front and center so that you don't fall back onto sloppy writing habits. 

And what about non-fiction?  Keeping your ideal readers in mind might allow you to stay on topic and hew to what you know your intended reader is interested in.  When I write blog posts I stick to articles about writing, inspiration, motivation and spirituality.  Those are the things you're used to me writing about. Those are the topics my readers expect to read about.  So that is keeping an ideal reader in mind–because, you know,  those of you who so kindly and loyally read this blog are my wonderful ideal readers!

So I guess this blog post doesn't come to any conclusions and instead asks a lot of questions.  It's a topic I'll ponder further.  Oh God–I almost forgot to include the best quote of all time about who a writer writes for:

"People ask me who I write for, I tell them I write for the rain."  Tom Robbins

A caveat here: I'm quoting this from memory.  I believe Robbins said it in a long-ago profile in Esquire and I've never forgotten it.  (He's a Northwesterner like me.) But the wording of the quote might not be exactly exact.

To continue the questioning, who do you write for?  Do you have an ideal reader in mind when you write?  I'd love to hear either way.

 Photo by cwsillero.

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14 Responses to Who Do You Write To?

  1. Beverly 09/04/2012 at 14:53 #

    This is so thought provoking. When I teach composition and bus/tech writing, and when I do my own tech writing work, audience and purpose are two important elements. I’ve been struggling with this in my fiction, though. If I start thinking about who may read my work among those I know, that nasty editor pops up, worrying that someone will see herself in this character or may be disappointed in me b/c of the theme of a piece. Sometimes I just take Maya Angelou’s advice and write what I want to read…the editor can’t be too critical then (I hope!).

  2. Charlotte Dixon 09/04/2012 at 15:43 #

    Yeah, that's me, too, and so many of the rest of us.  Put us to work writing something "serious" and we think about audience to our advantage.  But get us starting writing fiction and uh-uh.  All we do is criticize and second-guess ourselves.  Sigh.  Thanks for weighing in, Beverly!

  3. Fear of Writing 09/05/2012 at 11:34 #

    Charlotte, I love the way you come up with these marvelous things for us to ponder, and all because you had a reason to ponder them too.

    I can answer sure-footedly on the first one: In my journal I’m writing to a beloved animal mascot. Even though this spirit-world mascot understands me better than I probably know myself, I still sometimes find myself taking pains to be specific and explain things he presumably already sees or knows (because he’s a very psychic and omnipresent kinda guy). Not sure why I need to do that!

    As for who I write to the rest of the time. Hmmm. I consider myself to be a pretty self-aware gal but I’d have to give this some thought. And say “I dunno” for now.

  4. Stephanie Bolmer 09/05/2012 at 11:52 #

    We must be on the same wavelength, as I’ve been thinking about this, too. I sort of feel like I just write for a general, mass audience. I feel like I’m reaching out to everyone who will ever read the book I’m writing. But, a lot of marketing gurus suggest imagining a specific ‘ideal’ reader. I don’t know for sure who that would be. Maybe it would be myself. After all, didn’t Toni Morrison say something like, “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”?

  5. Charlotte Dixon 09/05/2012 at 12:23 #

    I love that you write to an animal mascot in your journal!  I wish I had something cool like that to write to, perhaps I need to invent a persona.  Hmmm, I'm liking that.  Thanks for the suggestion.  And I'd love it, of course, if you came back and reported in when you figure out who you might write to the rest of the time.

  6. Charlotte Dixon 09/05/2012 at 12:25 #

    Stephanie, I just read that Toni Morrison quote recently, too.  So maybe on some level we're writing to ourselves?  And yeah, I know the marketing gurus are all about stopping it down to one specific type or niche.  But I'm thinking it might be kind of fun to invent a composite ideal character.  Thanks for commenting!

  7. Don 09/05/2012 at 14:21 #

    Since I know that I can’t please everyone, everywhere, all the time, I like to write just for little old me, myself and I, just hoping that there are enough other people similar to myself who will like what I write too. Obviously, if I don’t like what I write myself why should I expect anyone else to like what I write?, so I limit my writing to my own likes, and this way, whether anyone else likes what I write at least I will.

  8. Charlotte Dixon 09/05/2012 at 16:33 #

    You make a compelling argument for writing just for yourself, Don!  Thanks for joining in on the discussion.

  9. Zan Marie 09/05/2012 at 16:33 #

    My journal is written to God in the form of prayer most of the time. Every once and awhile I’ll write to myself.

    Fiction is story telling for me. I write for everyone and no one in particular. Just tell the story.

  10. Charlotte Dixon 09/05/2012 at 16:46 #

    God, everyone and no one in particular–a good group to write for!  Thanks, Zan Marie.

  11. J.D. 09/06/2012 at 04:54 #

    Just as Beverly said above, Charlotte, very thought provoking. As I read this, I developed an image of the person who would enjoy my writing. Having formed that I’ve decided to add to it that my reader is impatient. He kicks my TV in every night. He slams me in the chair and practically maims my manhood while giving me my laptop. He jerks me up by the hair and, with his face inches from mine, screams, “Write @#$$#$!!!”

  12. Charlotte Dixon 09/06/2012 at 07:35 #

    Your impatient reader actually reminds me of people I've met along the way who tell me they wish their favorite author would write faster.  So you're right on track!  Knowing people want to read what you've written is certainly a good motivator!  Thanks for commenting, as always, J.D.

  13. Stephanie Bolmer 09/06/2012 at 07:49 #

    I just discovered this free tool for creating a ‘customer persona’ ~ http://www.upcloseandpersona.com.

    It was actually pretty helpful in thinking about who I’m writing to. I decided that if I want to think of a ‘composite ideal character’ as you say, her name is Jessica (based on http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/ Social Security Popularity List #1 given name for girls in 1994, as I imagine my reader to be about 17 or 18?)

  14. Charlotte Dixon 09/06/2012 at 07:56 #

    Just went to the link and started playing with it and how fun!  Thanks for sharing, Stephanie.  Jessica is a great name for a teenager, and that social security list is an amazing resource.  The only problem with it is that its a time sucker!

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