Craft: Writing for an Audience

Sad as it may sound, I only started to consider audience two years ago. Before that, I was writing for an audience most of the time—I just didn’t think of it in such bald terms.

The spring before I graduated, I was an editorial assistant at a very nice literary magazine. I was working on the slush pile one morning and my very nice editor came out of her office and asked me what I wanted to do when I was done with school. I was feeling whimsical and sleep-deprived and I told her that I was thinking of becoming a female horror mogul, because they were in short supply. I claimed I was devising a plan to fashion myself into a mini Clive Barker, because he was very famous and allowed to work in whatever medium he wanted, and my greatest aspiration was to have Todd McFarlane would come and make action figures of all my characters.

My editor laughed, which I naturally assumed had to do with me being completely outrageous, until she said, “But you write literary fiction.”

It wasn’t until that moment that the concept of audience actually registered. I knew I wrote literary fiction. It was what my academic audience expected. If the audience were different, I would be making my best attempt to write something different. When I wrote a twenty-five page paper on Marcel Proust and the power of memory, it wasn’t because I had no greater joy in life than writing about Proust. It was because the professor expected a Proust paper, and if I handed in a technical document, he would understandably be peeved (this is hypothetical, by the way—chances of me producing a coherent technical document are slim in the extreme).

Since then, I’ve been trying to cultivate audience awareness, to have the good sense to know who I’m writing for. When I sit down to tell a story, I’m shooting for immediacy, for vicarious appeal, and I’m not sure that I understand the mechanics of any of it yet, but I keep trying. I don’t always understand writing for an audience, but I know that it means holding up your end of the deal. It’s not ever going to be everyone—but it has to be someone.

2 thoughts on “Craft: Writing for an Audience

  1. Being aware of my audience is one of the most amorphous challenges I think I face as a writer. You grow up hearing (or I did) this idea that you have to write for yourself, but then in college you learn how to write a paper that’s full of bs but your professor loves because you knew exactly which buttons to push – then it becomes this give and take between writing the story, and writing for readers, or giving in too much in one direction so that you’re being masturbatory or offering only fanservice, or ignoring the needs of your readership altogether….

    And yeah. It’s a mess. 😀

    Also: hen I wrote a twenty-five page paper on Marcel Proust and the power of memory, SHOOT ME.

  2. Yes, everything you said. Audience is such an important thing to be aware of, but it seems like the constraints are always changing, so you have to be nimble and just do your best to adjust.

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