Am I Writing for An Audience or for Me?

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” Allen Ginsberg   

This was the question one of my students posed this week. Another said that she wrote for herself. She didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought about it. Yet another student indicated that he could never write if he thought it was just for himself. “There has to be a larger audience for my work or I couldn’t do it.”

This discussion started because the student who asked the question had used a metaphor in her submitted story that was meant to represent a place of security and safety. Not all the students were familiar with the reference. She then explained it and in doing so, her intention for the story was completely different than the way we had all read it.

You can’t really do this in a story. Well, you could. But what’s the point? You don’t want to confuse the reader. You want to enrich their experience.

Yes, it’s no problem to refer to a place or have a place represent a certain feel or quality you want to give your story. No one has to be familiar with it, however, the writer has to provide enough clues so the reader understands what the place or situation or metaphor characterizes. Places are as important a hint to the story’s meaning as character development, narrative and dialogue.

And the conversation went on from there, which is how we arrived at the question. Am I writing for an audience or for me?

My feeling is that those early drafts are always for and about the writer. You’re the only audience. There is no one standing beside or behind you. You have an idea and you run with it without thinking about who will read it, what people will say, or if it is publishable and ready for a larger audience.

Then as you redraft and redraft (which really is the business of writing), you start to break down scenes and ask yourself some salient questions, what is going on here, why have I added this or that reference, have I described what is happening and, provided enough hints to the reader. It’s these questions and other similar ones that force a writer to search for the layers in the story they want to tell. And it’s the focus on characters and their story that helps illuminate what the writer wants to share.

I write for myself, is the short answer to the original question. Because I had an idea, because I saw something that interested me and wanted to explore it further. And if the characters I create and the story interests me enough, I will continue to work it, hopefully creating something that will be worthy of being read by others.

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