Who Are Your Writing For?
A few months ago, I was casually browsing through Readings in Carlton when I unexpectedly spotted copies of Shibboleth & Other Stories on the shelf. It was still over a month until the launch of the collection, but I made grabby-hands at a copy: there it was, my name and my fist-ever piece of published work, in print. The friend I was with took me to Brunetti’s across the road for cake to celebrate, and I raced home to show my family.
I’m the only writer in my family, and they had all been very excited about news of my publication. Thrilled, I thrust my new copy of the book into my mother’s hands, expecting praise and admiration – which, of course, there was – but ultimately, her reaction wasn’t the one I expected. It took me a while to realize that it was not the one I wanted, and that led me to think about why I even cared about the reader’s response to my story. I hadn’t written that story in order to extract praise from a reader, so why did I feel that way? It made me think about why exactly we write, and who we write for.
I’m not really the kind of person that writes with a particular audience in mind – that is, I don’t pen words thinking about how they might illicit a certain response from a reader. Instead, I try to write from feelings and experiences, and just hope that there might be someone out there who can connect with these things on a very human level.
When it comes to professional writing, I think that getting published can become another motivating factor that impacts on why we write and who we write for. But the publishable nature of a story is, ultimately, individual. The nature of stories is such that it might not touch one person, but it might touch another.
In a talk from author Wayne Macauley, I once heard one of the best pieces of advice ever – Wayne explained that he had a short story that he was very happy with, and he submitted it to be published in a journal. They rejected it, so he tried every other journal he could think of. They all rejected it, too. But he still believed in the work – having written it for himself, he knew in his bones that it was good, so he tried that first journal one more time. By now, they had changed editors and they accepted the submission, completely in love with the story.
I suppose, what I’m trying to say, is that if you write for yourself and don’t get too bogged down in the machinations of how your work will be received by people, then your work is sure to thrive. This is how I think we as writers can find our individual voices and character – by letting ourselves flourish outside the confines of what we think people want to read.