Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Audience... and My Stage Fright

As I teach in my college classes, every writing has an intended audience.

You may feel, as I sometimes do, that your writing is to weird or unfinished or crappy for anyone else but yourself, but eventually, if you are a writer, you intend for your writings to be read by someone.

And there lies the problem.

Who is our audience? Well, honestly, that depends on what we are writing, and why. I write in nearly every genre--essay, poetry, fiction (short and long), and drama (short and long). Each genre--and each work itself--has a different intended audience, and a different set of issues caused by the very audience I intend to reach.

My novels are all the culmination of a set of ideas, many months (no, years) of work, and painstaking revision and effort. I have literally (yes, I do know the meaning of this word and use it correctly) have revised my first novel nearly 30 times. My third novel was stopped and almost scrapped three times, and I've overhauled it, starting the novel over from scratch, changing the main character, changing the entire genre of novel, and changing POV and verb tense (which is really, really hard to revise, it turns out). Why all the work? Because I want my novels to read seamlessly, to satisfy readers without annoying them with too much detail, too little, events which are too stupid or too preachy or too unbelievable, without "too much" anything. Of course, I cannot truly know my audience, for so much of my personal preferences in reading come out, and I know other readers will never be exactly like me. Another problem is that I am my primary reader. I've read my books far more than anyone else has, mainly because I have shown them to so few people (mainly because they rarely feel finished).

With plays, I have a different audience entirely. I have to imagine all of the play in front of a live audience. Even more importantly, I have to imagine actors and directors taking my play and making something out of it, and create ways to help them do so easily (few sets, abbreviated action, logical shifts, etc.). After all, if a director doesn't feel the play is worth doing, and actors don't enjoy it, it won't be performed. But the final judge is still the audience, and I have to consider how I can place in the meaning of the piece (the whole reason I wrote it to begin with) into the work without losing the spontaneous feeling one should have watching stage action through a fourth wall. The largest difficulty with this is probably obvious: I can never know how a play, a particular scene, or even a line works until the play is in front of an audience, live, and my writing is already public. This is rather like a comic, who doesn't know if a joke works until it does--or doesn't--in front of a real audience.

With poetry, I usually write with an audience in mind, too, but, in my case, the audience is nearly always singular. Instead of writing from a particular POV (the way that Edgar Lee Masters wrote his Spoonriver Anthology), I write TO a particular person, someone in real life. Often I write to my husband, as I can prove with a huge list of sonnets and other love poems, but I also write to others, even a few people who have passed away. I send poems to people, but often I write them only for myself, with no intent to ever share them with anyone, including their intended audience. Poems are a way for me to clear my head of some issue, to get something proverbially (not literally) off my chest. I have several to my father, for instance, but they are more like letters I write, seal, but never mail.

If you write, you know, deep down, that you have an audience for your work, an audience beyond yourself. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. If you long for a huge audience of superfans who will love your work, your task may seem quite daunting, and any lukewarm response to your writings can feel like a knife to the heart. God forbid that a reader express distaste for your writing, or you might find yourself crushed for months. I am thicker skinned than many, but only to a point. It's the reason I keep revising and not submitting my work to anybody.

It's funny that I am writing about audience here, in my old blog, since only a handful of people even read this, and I rarely get more than a response or two, nearly all from my fantastic sister. (Thanks in advance, Stephanie!) Perhaps, however, if you happen upon this page, you will see that, in the end, I am still writing to myself most of all. I am writing to understand myself better, to work through ideas, to see what is holding me back.

I would love to know what you see holding you and your writing back. What fears do you have about your audience? Who do you believe your audience to be?

Until next time, keep writing...