Moving to Freedom, .Org(on)

Who reads this? And for whom is it written?

illustrated by Frank Ver Beck, from 'Magical Monarch of Mo' by L. Frank Baum, 1903, found at gutenberg.org

I’m really coming along with the writing. I’ve used “whom” twice in the past two days and I think I nailed it both times. I’m not only about the BIG questions of life and liberty here. I want to get better at the craft of writing. For you, the reader. I care about my readers. My “business plan” is to give you a humane reading experience.

I’m going to tell you about four of my readers today. I don’t want to call them my “target audience” or even my “core audience,” although they are the four that most regularly read and respond to my work. These are the people I “write for.”

I’ve seen the advice in several books and articles on writing that you should write for a specific person. The person may even be dead. But it helps to imagine the response of that specific person to the words.

Brenda Ueland talks about the anxieties of writers in If You Want to Write, and about that reader:

And so no wonder you don’t write and put it off month after month, decade after decade. For when you write, if it is to be any good at all, you must feel free,—free and not anxious. The only good teachers for you are those friends who love you, who think you are interesting, or very important, or wonderfully funny; whose attitude is:

Tell me more. Tell me all you can. I want to understand more about everything you feel and know and all the changes inside and out of you. Let more come out.”

And if you have no such friend,—and you want to write,—well then you must imagine one.

By that standard, I would have to invent someone. But still there are these four people I’m going to tell you about that fill this role, however grudgingly or unwittingly.

This audience is mostly women, which is natural enough. I was raised by three woman. Not in a polygamist lesbian situation — it was my mom and two older sisters. My dad was around also but he was busy working.

I’ll start with the guy. Thornton (not his real name) is in this group because we work in close physical proximity and he has little choice. Thornton reads the posts and gives limited feedback in order to maintain a slightly more bearable working relationship. I know that many topics make Thornton uneasy — including talking about him in a post like this — and I often imagine his reactions. Since good writing should take us to scary or at least uncomfortable places, I know I’m doing well when I can picture Thornton sweating through a post, afraid of where it might go next. I expect Thornton will fall out of this group when our careers take us to different areas and cubes.

Then there is Vanessa. (Not her real name.) Vanessa is the person Brenda describes above, or close to it. I shouldn’t speak for Vanessa — it’s possible she’s just humoring me, of course — but she’s been reading my work for years and I’m greatly encouraged by her support. She reads widely, and obviously has discerning and impeccable taste, so I feel special. She also contributes to my anxieties with her extremely negative outlook about the working world, but that probably helps my writing as well.

Then there is this crazy cat lady I met recently on the internet. She seems like a lot of fun, and not “scary crazy” so far, and she seems to like my writing. It’s nice that someone other than those people I have an immediate and aggressively personal influence on is willing to read my posts, and genuinely seems to enjoy them. And even promotes my writing. Very encouraging. Thank you, Crazy Cat Lady.

Before we get to my remaining reader, let’s consider what Stephen King says about the “first reader” in On Writing:

Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in to shine on the bubble of your dream, in spirit during the sometimes troubling and often exhilarating days of your first draft, when the door is closed. And you know what? You’ll find yourself bending the story even before Ideal Reader glimpses so much as the first sentence. I.R. will help you get outside yourself a little, to actually read your work in progress as an audience would while you’re still working. This is perhaps the best way of all to make sure you stick to story, a way of playing to the audience even while there’s no audience there and you’re totally in charge.

For King, this Ideal Reader is his wife. I’m trying to respect the anonymity of all my “core readers” today, but I will reveal that my remaining Ideal Reader lives in my house and shares a bed with me. I’ll protect her identity by only referring to her as “Hot Mama.”

Hot Mama isn’t one to take off in flights of irrational exuberance, but she is a dedicated (mostly) and helpful (for real) reader of my stuff. When I’m not starting and and finishing posts between three and six a.m., she’ll offer useful feedback and kind words for my drafts. I think she’s supportive of me and my dream, but like me she has her fears, and in this case there is the reasonable concern that we’ll end up being very, very poor if I continue with this. But she’s there for me, and I know she loves me, and I don’t think I could write much of anything without that.

Thanks, to everyone reading this. It’s for all of you, not just these four unfortunates.

But thanks especially to you four.

To everyone else: it’s all their fault.