Saturday, June 1, 2013

Who Is the Audience for Your Writing?

I sometimes imagine that the reader of my work is a young woman living one hundred years from now in a remote village at the opposite end of the Earth. Having that reader in my thoughts when I write reminds me that I have to make sure my work is not just comprehensible to my friends, who are the usual audience for my writing. Thinking about that young woman in a distant mountain village makes me pay attention to whether the references in my work are obscure or generally understandable.

This check of my work for whether it can connect with the reader can be about relatively minor things, or it can be about much deeper issues.

For instance, I live in a country (the U.S.A.) where we still use the English measurement system, not the metric system. In conversation, I tend to speak in terms of miles and feet. But when I write, I try to find a more universal way to describe height, length, and distance: “a child no taller than a desk,” “as far as he could run in ten minutes,” for instance.

I also try to use more universal terms for money—“as much as I earn in a month,” “only enough to buy a one-scoop ice cream cone,” etc. You can use actual currency if the context makes it clear whether that amount is considered a lot or a little by the character(s) in a story, play, or poem. In fact, it adds ambience to mention a currency, provided it’s clear to the reader what the quantity signifies.

The idea that you’re writing for readers who may not share the same culture, religion, history, etc. should not prevent you from writing about what you know best. Sometimes the most interesting settings are the ones that feel most remote to the reader. As long as that setting is conveyed in a compelling and vivid way, it can be all the more interesting if it’s not familiar.

Writing for those who live in the future also reminds us to be forward-looking in our viewpoints. Walt Whitman, for instance, was so far ahead of his time and such a free thinker in terms of issues of democracy, equality, race relations, and sexuality.

                                                             Walt Whitman

That’s part of what makes his work so relevant 150 years later. Whitman wrote in his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”:

“It avails not, neither time or place—distance avails not;
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence;

I project myself—also I return—I am with you, and know how it is.
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt;
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd;
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d;
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood, yet was hurried...”

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka

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