Digging for Words

One writer's quest to bring the past to life through imagination

Author, Know Your Audience

5 Comments

I am sometimes amused by how much I enjoy blogging after years of swearing that I’d never start a blog.

I still remember the whiny voice of comedian Bill Maher mocking Americans as exhibitionists, all of us begging for someone to “READ MY BLOG!” I just couldn’t bear the thought of adding my most private and personal whining to the mix. And I didn’t know what else I’d want to blog about. So I resisted until finally, I found a purpose for this strangely public forum. I did it by recognizing who my audience would be – all of you in The Writers Circle.

After years of sharing hard-copy articles with our group about the work of being a writer, I finally realized that I could share those same articles through hyperlinks on the web – great for my green-guilt about killing trees! Even better when I realized I ought to keep a running record of all those links. And so The Writers Circle blog was born.

The new virtual format also freed me to formally record the many passing musings that I’d often had about the writing process, the struggles of being a writer, the imperative of perseverance. My blog, finally, would not be just a self-indulgent whine; it would enable me to share what we implicitly enact in our weekly classes: that deep, persistent longing to connect, identify with and learn from other writers.

I know my audience because I meet with you every week. When I write for this blog, I think of what we’ve talked about in class. I try to write with each of you in my thoughts as students, colleagues and friends.

Knowing your audience is critical to any writing. Certainly a marketing brochure or a technical handbook have very different purposes, audiences and therefore tones. It’s a rather dry but explicit example of the writer’s classic conundrum – how to find one’s voice. While we all look inward to find our own best, most authentic self-expression, we must also look outward to those we imagine will read our words. We cultivate our voice – or voices, because most writers have at least a few – to suit the context of our work and its intended readership.

So I ask myself, for whom do I write my fiction? Who is this strange voice talking to when it comes out of me, almost always with a heavy cadence and a kind of poetry to tell stories about lives and times and places I have often never been?

I can only answer this by noticing that, in most of my long works, I create at least one character who speaks as the old storyteller, the keeper of history and the voice of the mythic past. Through this voice I write down legends that inform my characters’ worldviews. Sometimes they are real tales I’ve gleaned from other sources. Sometimes they are stories that come to me as if from a swirling mist. This is my favorite voice, the one that I return to again and again in different incarnations. When I write in this voice, I am allowed to ask one of the questions that most intrigues me – how do others experience the world?

Who am I writing for? Who does any fiction author speak to in the end but to themselves? We are our own first audience. We must love our characters, our stories, our imagined worlds. For me, writing is all about reaching into the distant past. For others, it’s about close examination of the present, a moment of mystery unfolding, a careful reliving of a challenging life, or a wild adventure with wacky characters who become vivid to all of us. As a group we become invested in each others’ stories and characters. We are each other’s second audience and together we begin to imagine and even create a third – a larger one that we may never personally meet, but that will read our words and begin to understand us through our tales.

Advertisements

Author: Judith

Judith Lindbergh's latest novel, Pasture of Heaven, is about a nomad woman warrior on the Central Asian steppes in the 5th century BCE. (And there really were!) Her first novel, The Thrall's Tale, is a literary historical novel about three women in the first Viking Age settlement in 10th century Greenland. The Thrall's Tale was a Booksense Pick and a Borders Original Voices selection. Judith is also the founder and director of The Writers Circle, a creative writing program offering workshops for children and adults.

5 thoughts on “Author, Know Your Audience

  1. Thanks Judith for writing on this topic which I find very controversial as well as puzzling. I acknowledge knowing your audience is a vital rule of engagement for both fictional and the non-fictional world that brings us our bread and butter. By this I mean our professional world. But then you are catering to an audience and instead of having the complete freedom to write anything you want and the style of prose you chose, you are focusing on pleasing someone’s palette. This becomes an intense task when you have to project out of your own mind and start thinking more analytically how others might think and how they might accept your work. May be I am mixing up the issue here but I have, on a very related topic, found this somewhat frustrating that when I begin to write, especially on topics that cross two worlds, a world that I was once part of – which is still second nature to me and the new nest where I now belong today, there are oceans of differences and gaps. But when I am sensible I do realize I am writing for the English speaking audience and it is up to me paint a proper landscape so at the end when it is said and done, they are happy. It also feels as if I am catering and molding. So I am waiting for that day, for quite selfish reason, when the readers will also take the onus to expand their horizons and more writers will come forward from the South Asian background and write across cultural boundaries. And a day will come when a lazy guy like me can focus on the core subject matter that is closer to heart than a gap that I am trying to bridge.

    • Zak, I know exactly what you mean, though I don’t have the privilege of having experienced two worlds in the same way you have. I think the difficulty comes in trying to explain things that seem second nature to someone who has actually lived in a different culture. In my own fiction, because I’m often drawing from history that’s unfamiliar and for the most part forgotten, I also have to dig deep to find creative ways to express unfamiliar perspectives, culture, beliefs, even everyday life. But I know from the start that almost no one has any familiarity with my subjects. Perhaps this thought would help you find your own way to describe your South Asian background to an unfamiliar audience. I also recall reading that, statistically anyway, Americans are exposed to less world literature and have less works available to them in translation than practically any other developed nation. It’s an interesting obstacle that is inherently part of this “new nest” in which you now find yourself. Sometimes you have to spoon feed the obvious until the reader is completely swept up in your tale.

  2. Judith,
    I’m so glad that you finally give in and decided to create the writers circle and I consider myself one of your loyal readers 🙂 I’m truly enjoying each and every one of your posts and I want to thank you for sharing your words here on this amazing blog of yours…

    I often ask myself that question; “who am I writing for?” I actually write about this matter couple of days ago on my blog(http://likeabowloforanges.wordpress.com/2010/03/28/%e2%80%9ci%e2%80%99m-right-here-where-are-you-my-dear-reader%e2%80%9d/)
    And I agree with you, at the end of the day a writer, first and foremost, writes for himself. We are our first audience.

    My hope is to understand myself and to be understood by my audience through the stories I tell… 🙂

  3. Judith,

    I love reading your blog, you inspire me so much. I wish I could keep reading your blog. I love the way you express .All I want to say I do dance and write with no urge that somebody should see me or praise me.

    • Kavita, it’s great to hear from you! I’m so glad you’re following us on The Writers Circle blog. As long as you’re writing (and dancing – me, too!), you’re taking the steps you need to move your creativity forward. (Pun intended.) Hope to meet you face to face soon.

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s