Audience of One
“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Recently I’ve read several interviews with novelists who say that they write with a single reader in mind, silencing the demands of market trends, publishers and agents by aiming to please that single reader. Michel Faber, a favourite writer of mine, has to be the apotheosis of this. The author of The Crimson Petal and the White, Under The Skin and the story collection The Apple claimed after publishing his last work, The Book of Strange New Things, that he was giving up novel writing. His reason was the death of his wife, Eva Youren, who had, according to Faber, always been his first reader, his primary audience and most trusted critic.
I was saddened, touched and strangely fascinated with Faber’s reasoning. The idea of such a gifted writer, at the top of his game, with so many greater novels in him (novels which I’m sure his wife would have wanted him to write), simply scattering his talent to the wind felt almost sacrificial to me, weirdly punitive, as if it were self-harming. Perhaps it’s hard for me to understand because, I am a writer living with a partner who has little to no interest in books. My partner follows the news voraciously, is interested in documentaries, film and photography, and he has supported my writing without question. But he doesn’t care to read it. Novels and stories just aren’t his gig. You might find this an odd partnership, but it’s just the way I like it.
For me, writing (on a good day, at least) is a descent into a vacuum where time, responsibilities, the demands of the real world are suspended. It feels secretive, self-absorbed, selfish. I’m never very certain of what I’m doing. I constantly feel a fraud and this doubt often makes the activity cringe-worthy and a bit shameful, like being caught lip-syncing songs to a hairbrush microphone in the bathroom mirror. So, when I emerge from the office blinking into the real world of making lunch boxes or throwing a spag bol together for dinner, the last thing I want to do is talk about my work. The idea of receiving feedback, possibly critical, from someone I love and sleep next to is, frankly, horrifying to me. That’s what my writers’ group is for. I love those girls, even when they’re mean to me. I don’t have to wake up to their faces and I’m not tempted to spit in their spag bol.
As far as writing for an audience of one goes, if I think about it, I probably do it too. I simply try to write stories I would want to read myself (which I don’t believe is true of all beginner writers). I guess my audience of “one” is me.
Image credit: ‘Hand, writing’ via Pixabay.com