I am sometimes amused by how much I enjoy blogging after years of swearing that I’d never start a blog.
I still remember the whiny voice of comedian Bill Maher mocking Americans as exhibitionists, all of us begging for someone to “READ MY BLOG!” I just couldn’t bear the thought of adding my most private and personal whining to the mix. And I didn’t know what else I’d want to blog about. So I resisted until finally, I found a purpose for this strangely public forum. I did it by recognizing who my audience would be – all of you in The Writers Circle.
After years of sharing hard-copy articles with our group about the work of being a writer, I finally realized that I could share those same articles through hyperlinks on the web – great for my green-guilt about killing trees! Even better when I realized I ought to keep a running record of all those links. And so The Writers Circle blog was born.
The new virtual format also freed me to formally record the many passing musings that I’d often had about the writing process, the struggles of being a writer, the imperative of perseverance. My blog, finally, would not be just a self-indulgent whine; it would enable me to share what we implicitly enact in our weekly classes: that deep, persistent longing to connect, identify with and learn from other writers.
I know my audience because I meet with you every week. When I write for this blog, I think of what we’ve talked about in class. I try to write with each of you in my thoughts as students, colleagues and friends.
Knowing your audience is critical to any writing. Certainly a marketing brochure or a technical handbook have very different purposes, audiences and therefore tones. It’s a rather dry but explicit example of the writer’s classic conundrum – how to find one’s voice. While we all look inward to find our own best, most authentic self-expression, we must also look outward to those we imagine will read our words. We cultivate our voice – or voices, because most writers have at least a few – to suit the context of our work and its intended readership.
So I ask myself, for whom do I write my fiction? Who is this strange voice talking to when it comes out of me, almost always with a heavy cadence and a kind of poetry to tell stories about lives and times and places I have often never been?
I can only answer this by noticing that, in most of my long works, I create at least one character who speaks as the old storyteller, the keeper of history and the voice of the mythic past. Through this voice I write down legends that inform my characters’ worldviews. Sometimes they are real tales I’ve gleaned from other sources. Sometimes they are stories that come to me as if from a swirling mist. This is my favorite voice, the one that I return to again and again in different incarnations. When I write in this voice, I am allowed to ask one of the questions that most intrigues me – how do others experience the world?
Who am I writing for? Who does any fiction author speak to in the end but to themselves? We are our own first audience. We must love our characters, our stories, our imagined worlds. For me, writing is all about reaching into the distant past. For others, it’s about close examination of the present, a moment of mystery unfolding, a careful reliving of a challenging life, or a wild adventure with wacky characters who become vivid to all of us. As a group we become invested in each others’ stories and characters. We are each other’s second audience and together we begin to imagine and even create a third – a larger one that we may never personally meet, but that will read our words and begin to understand us through our tales.