Who do you write to? When you imagine your readers, whose faces do they wear?
Amy Tan (author of The Joy Luck Club) discusses language, audience. and writing in her brilliant essay, Mother Tongue. Near the end of the essay, she says , “I […] decided I should envision a reader for the stories I would write. And the reader I decided upon was my mother.”
When I worked for Public Relations and Philanthropic Communications, our entire departments revolved around the question: Who is the audience? With creative writing, you can get even closer: Who is the person?
We all have our own, critical voices. They’re often unspecific, and unhelpful.
I find that when I start listening to the voice of a specific reader, my writing improves and my confidence gets a lift. Having a specific person (or persons) I write to gives me parameters I can reach.
So here’s your assignment: Sit down with a piece of paper and make a list of three to five names. These are the real-life people who pop into your head while you write. If you can’t think of any, dabble in creative writing for ten minutes. They’ll show up.
Here are some voices you might hear:
1. Family members. My dad operates on a hyper-logical sphere, so whenever I find myself writing heists, schemes, or even romance, I keep him in mind. If I can sell it to him, I can sell it to anyone. (Note: Amy Tan’s was her mother. When her mother said she understood what Tan wrote, Tan knew she’d done it right.)
2. Friends. I have a particular friend who loves the genre I write in. She is my enthusiastic reader, and when I write something I know she’ll love I get really excited because I know she will be squealing at this point (and probably hitting whatever unfortunate person is standing near her).
3. Critique partners/writing buds. When you get familiar enough with a writing friend, you can often predict what they will point out before they do it. Harness this and use it to edit more effectively.
4. Professors/mentors. I have at least two professors in my head at any give time. One whispers, “Be specific. Use details.” The other whispers, “What is the motivation? What are the feelings? What’s the narrative doing here?”
5. Critics. I know I said that the point of this is to reduce unspecific self-criticism, but it does bear acknowledging the voices that criticize you—if you use those voices to make your writing better. One of my old classmates used to underline every time I used the word “got” and pointed out that it was too casual for the tone of my book. Now, whenever I start to type the word, I hear her in my head and I change it (or at least weigh it heavily).
By identifying the voices, you can write with them in mind. This will give your writing more focus, and hopefully help tune out your own inner-critic.
Until next time, beware of sparkling people and keep being awesome!