Guest Post: Who Will Read My Writing?

Please welcome my friend and fellow writer Anthony J. Mohr to the blog today.  This post made me laugh out loud–probably because I'm all too familiar with the sentiment behind it.  And I've been an admirer of Anthony's essays about growing up in Hollywood back in the day when it was still truly glamorous for quite some time now.  (He does write about other things, too, and just as gracefully.)  Enjoy!

Sometimes (okay–all the time) when I’m writing, I wonder who will read my work. Not just whether the audience will consist of millennials or astronauts, but whether an old friend or a long lost crush will happen to see it thanks to a Google search or, better yet, because someone will tell her, “Hey, you used to know that guy Mohr? You’ve got to read what he just published in the Left Toe Review.”

That hasn’t occurred yet. Everything I’ve published seems to have vanished, passing by the earth’s seven billion souls without touching anyone. I understand. After all, how many people subscribe to the Left Toe Review? But I did make it, once, into the Christian Science Monitor and, twice, into Chicken Soup for the Soul. And still nothing from the long losts.

Twenty-five years ago, I walked by a news truck that was parked along a West Los Angeles street. When I stopped to see what they were doing, the reporter asked for my view on some issue of the day. Of course I agreed to say something on camera. I was a lawyer, then, and thought the exposure would land me a client. I answered the question; they broadcast five seconds of my brilliance; and that night, my phone began ringing. At least ten friends saw me. So did a potential client, who never paid his bill.

For years my friend Amber has been struggling to escape from her reporting job at one of those tabloids, the type that runs headlines like “Cheerleader Becomes Dear Leader’s Sex Slave.” Amber longed to write something meaningful, an essay that would spark debates across the chattering class. It took four years of research and at least forty drafts, but one of the nation’s most cerebral journals accepted her piece about – if I remember right — the transformation of Asian society and its impact on post cold war diplomacy. The day it hit the newsstands, Amber stayed home by her phone, waiting to hear from the world.

Her phone rang once.

It was the wimpy nerd who had bothered her through high school, a kid who’d been too dense to take a hint. She hadn’t been able to shake free of him until graduation. Now, twenty years later, thanks to Amber’s assiduous efforts, he was back, still trying to cadge a date.

So I ask once more: why do I bother to write? Other than attaboys from close friends to whom I send links to my stuff, I’ve resolved to hear from precisely nobody. I use my imagination – the same imagination I call on to write — in order to envision someone reading my story. I imagine that person showing it to her spouse, who at the end blinks back a tear or falls asleep thinking about my stunning last line instead of his kid’s dental bill. I refuse to imagine that person tossing my pages on the floor before he turns out the light.

Photo Judge MohrAnthony J. Mohr’s work has appeared in or is upcoming in, among other places, California Prose Directory, The Christian Science Monitor, DIAGRAM, EclecticaFront Porch JournalHippocampusThe MacGuffinWar, Literature & the Arts, andZYZZYVA. Three of his pieces have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. By day he is a judge on the Superior Court in Los Angeles. Once upon a time, he was a member of The L.A. Connection, an improv theater group.

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.