Writing for an Audience

November was productive in many ways, but NaNoWriMo was not in that list. While I managed nearly fifteen thousand words of serviceable writing, it was boring, filled with starts and stops, and generally not worth all the effort. Thus, I found myself scrapping the draft halfway through the month, claiming other responsibilities. Those responsibilities were real, but had my writing been more fun, I could have found time for both.

Scrapping a novel halfway through NaNoWriMo is a biannual occurrence, at least for as long as I’ve participated. Two years ago, I attempted to rewrite my second novel, then dropped it as a hurricane ripped power from my neighborhood for ten days. Despite the better excuse for quitting, I was finding the novel boring anyway. I was still new, and hadn’t gotten the hang of outlining just yet.

This year, I had a different problem. The entire October previous, I worked hard on worldbuilding and characters, making sure I would have ample material to write when November hit. The night before, I was excited. The morning of, I didn’t want to write.

I had decided this year to take things more slowly, making sure I knew my purpose for everything so I wouldn’t write trash, nor leave out anything significant. I had resolved to write for myself, for craft, and to produce the best first draft ever.

You can see how well that turned out.

Since then, I’ve restarted, and in a short while almost surpassed my NaNoWriMo wordcount. I still want to write the best draft ever, and I still want to know my purpose for everything, but I’ve changed one thing. I’m no longer writing for myself.

People tell you all the time that what I just said is wrong. If you don’t write for yourself, you’ll constantly be disappointed and depressed because you can’t know or control everyone’s thoughts. Your book is going to reach untold audiences when it’s published– how do you write for everyone at once?

Argument noted, but tell me, what are dedications for? At the beginning of any book, an author has a line or two dedicating the book to a person they know. For my parents, for my spouse, for my best friend– there’s always something. What does that mean? Are they trying to thank that person? If so, the acknowledgements are useless. Are they trying to bring that person a bit of fame? I don’t think so. I’m not about to look up the person in an author’s dedication, no matter how scintillating they might seem. At the simplest, the dedication is there for the author to say, “I wrote this book for that person. They were my audience.”

When you get a specific audience in your head, you begin to see what the story really could be. You can plot and worldbuild until your ears fall off, but why would you? Having an audience gives you a reason to write, beyond the vague compulsion of chronic writers.

Having an audience also gives you a couple things to shoot for. Perhaps this person loves intricate puns– when you’re looking for a joke, you already have a place to start. Perhaps they like lovable rogues, or traitors, or altruistic characters who make terrible mistakes without realizing it. You know how they react to things, so you can work specifically to make them laugh, or cry, or cheer. Don’t imagine your book completely to their standards, but with an audience, you can imagine how your story will affect them.

Reactions, of course, vary between people. Not everyone is going to experience the book the same way as this specific audience– but many will. By writing for a small audience, you lose the inability to please everyone. Now you can please your entire audience, and never worry about anyone else.

How large is your audience? Perhaps it’s one person. Perhaps it’s your entire writing group. Maybe your family, or a group of friends, or your dog. It depends on who you want to write for. Perhaps it is, after all, only you– that’s fine, but you’ll have to work harder to keep from boring yourself, since you already know what you’re going to write. Whatever the audience, it’s best to keep it small so you can write for them without having to please everyone in the universe.

What’s your dedication say?

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27 thoughts on “Writing for an Audience

  1. Glad you found someone to write for and that your writing is going well. Looking forward to alpha-reading.

    You know… I honestly never thought of book dedications that way. I think you’re right but to an extent. I think that a dedication isn’t necessarily “I wrote this book for them”, though it can be, but it could also be a “I care about this person and this book is for them, even if they never read it.” But your definition is lovely and worth considering when writing.

    This was a good post. I shared it with my mom– not necessarily a standard of what makes a good post; I tend to share the ones I hope she’ll enjoy. She liked this, too.

    And with that, I have a blog post of my own to finish up and post…

  2. How very interesting. I was just thinking about this topic recently, and in fact, recalling what I read in my first beloved writing book several years ago (Spilling Ink) related to this. The author made much the same points you did, explaining her conclusion that she simply can’t write well without an audience in mind. If she’s writing to herself, she said, why bother? She already knows the characters and she could just come up with the story in her head if she wanted. Without writing to communicate, there’s no gleeful anticipation of the reader’s response to this plot twist or that character’s secret or anything.

    So…yeah. I agree. It’s the same way with me. I need to be writing for someone, even if I don’t know who that someone is, or I don’t figure out who it is until I’m already writing. I also agree with Robyn on the dedication thing, though.

  3. Huh. When I first started writing, if anyone asked me who my audience was, I’d either confusedly say, “Um, whoever finds my book interesting and decides to read it?” or “I guess other people my age? Ish?” In other words, I think I was more or less writing for myself, and nobody else in particular, really. And I wrote perfectly fine, completely motivated to write every day and write as well as I could.

    Now, though, I think you may be right. While I was writing my NaNoWriMo novel, I’m not sure I particularly had any audience in mind… but looking back, I think I may have been unconsciously more or less writing it for those few Wrimos who said they liked the concept and whatnot behind the book and wanted to read it. But there was this other novel I wanted to be working on this month…I got a chapter into it, then just kind of stopped, not because I was bored or because I didn’t know what was going on, I just didn’t (don’t) have a drive for that one. Maybe that’s the problem…

    I will have to think about this more. Good post! I need a better word than good, I think… Excellent post? Terrific post? *looks in thesaurus* Sterling post! Ooh, I like that one.

      1. Indeed… I got a sword for Christmas. *goes out and kills vampires because vampires are EVIL* …it’s a high-impact plastic dueling sword…. still awesome though

      2. Lucky you. I’m off to batter the Red Skull in the head with the swords. Sometimes when I’m watching “Captain America: The First Avenger”, I shoot rubber bands at Schmidt, just because. 😛

  4. I like this, about writing for an audience. When I write, I generally write for Iris (have you visited her blog yet?), who I know IRL, my sister, and my brother. My other sister provides a running commentary and doesn’t really pay attention if I read my work to her. (She’s four, that’s why. :-P)

    1. (I can’t find her blog. Give me a link and I’ll check it out— that is, unless it’s coruscantbookshelves, which I do know.) I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

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