Why You Deserve a Better Audience

SAMSUNGThis July I’ve been following along on the progress of Camp NaNoWriMo through different writers’ blogs. The impressive word counts, surprising ideas, and creative ways to push through that I see coming from all these writers are really inspiring. It’s exciting how the everyone’s-in-it-together energy becomes contagious and encourages writers to stretch their potential in ways they never would have before.

It’s also made me think a lot about motivation.

Where does motivation come from?

When I was a little girl I loved to play dress-up. Even back then I was passionate about stories, and so it usually happened that I extended my simple costumes into dramatic play-acting. Sometimes I was a news reporter or a glamorous actress. Sometimes I was running my own little store or library. When I enacted these narratives on my own they stayed pretty predictable. But when I was able to corral my mom and her friends into “watching a show” suddenly my small scenarios took on a sense of urgency, and a powerful demand for me to unleash my own creative voice.

The difference between playing by myself and putting on a play was that, with the latter, my creativity was now on display for others.

Would they like it? Would they think it was wonderful? What would they think?

A supportive audience can be an incredibly dynamic motivator for writers. Because we do a lot of the actual writing on our own, it’s easy to overlook that other essential interlocking piece of our writer’s purpose, which is to connect with other human beings. But that is the the true core reason every writer writes at all. Writers use the creative act of writing to examine and explain themselves and the way they see the world to other people.

And so the promise of someone else reading your work can be an extremely powerful shot of go-go-juice to your creative muscle. But if your current audience consists of readers who just aren’t that into your kind of writing—regardless of the quality of your work—then you miss out on the motivational benefits.

The type of audience that works best for you will depend on where you’re at in your process and unique experience as a writer. If you’ve already published a novel or two and are looking for feedback on the latest, you will probably seek out readers with a sharp and critical eye for improvement. However, if you’ve never shown anyone your writing before, or you’re feeling nervous and vulnerable about it, finding readers who are emotionally sensitive and encouraging should be your priority. Discovering yourself as a writer can help you pinpoint where you are in your process. Being thoughtful about the people you choose to share your writing with can help you blossom as a creative being.

Of course, there is the conventional argument that writers should always seek out blunt and brutal critique of their work. If someone doesn’t tear your writing apart, how can you ever rebuild it to get any better? And this works for some writers. Just like it works for some people to problem solve using conflict, and engage with others using an aggressive interaction style. If you are energized by competition and conflict, this method might inspire and drive you and get great results.

But writers are as diverse and layered as all the other humans on planet earth. Not every writer is energized by aggression. When you are choosing your first audience, make your choice on what you want and what feels good to you. When human beings feel emotionally supported and safe, they will thrive and grow, and then gain the confidence to explore new territory.

The energy you share with your first audience should be the energy of curiosity. They are curious about the magic and beauty to be found in your writing, and you are curious about their experience reading it, and their reaction afterward. A lot of other stuff will come up along the way. Your first readers will point out places in your writing where they were confused, and stuff they loved that you never suspected was special. You might see your story in an entirely different light or, based on their observations, decide to write a different story altogether. But you can never do without the valuable insight an audience can bring to your work.

On top of all this wisdom, perspective, and inspiration, you get to write your story knowing that someone out there is going to read it.

And that’s really what we writers live for.

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31 Comments

  • Reply scottishmomus 11 July, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Reblogged this on scottishmomus.

  • Reply scottishmomus 11 July, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Your assessment is absolutely on the nose.x

    • Reply writecity.wordpress.com 11 July, 2013 at 11:26 am

      I REALLY needed to hear these words of encouragement today. THANK YOU!!!

      • Reply scottishmomus 11 July, 2013 at 11:29 am

        We all need encouragement. And your words gave me mine. Thank you.x

  • Reply colorfulpen 11 July, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Love your posts. They always inspire and motivate.

    To share some personal experience, I learned a lot about audience very early on in my writing. I was taking a course in children’s literature and gave one of my first assignments to my mother to read. Her only feedback was on one of my characters, and she said, “This girl’s a twit.” I must’ve plowed right through the energy of curiosity you mention because that was enough for me to realize family wasn’t going to be the best audience for me. I needed more than that. I mean, okay, you don’t like my character. Tell me why. Is the character’s motivation all wrong? What is she lacking? I think it was her choice of words, as well as the flippant way she said it, that bothered me, but it did give me something to go on. To learn from, if only about audience. After that I pretty much stuck to the critiques I’d get back from my editor at the time. Constructive. Gentle, yet firm from someone who’d been there. Someone who actually knew what made a story work or not work. Those were my first clues as to how I’d go about assessing audience while still learning the craft.

    I also met another writer who’d been writing much longer than I had, and we critiqued each other’s work for a little while. Sharing was still fairly new to me, while she was part of a huge writers’ group. She’d invited me to attend one of their meetings, and we went to a writers’ conference together. Being in such different places in the creative process was probably difficult for both of us. Maybe I could’ve learned a lot, but instead it all felt very intimidating. Again, not the audience for me. Especially when one situation during the conference made me extremely uncomfortable. And when another writer I didn’t even know told me, “If you have time to paint your nails, you aren’t writing enough.” Really? I didn’t know taking care of myself and doing things that felt good to me took away from my writing. Interesting. She never read any of my work, only critiqued me personally. Gotta love that.

    I agree, audience is important. Since those early days, I’ve been lucky enough to find and work with some awesome editors and supportive writers/readers.

    • Reply writecity.wordpress.com 11 July, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing this story. It’s always SO interesting to me to hear about the experiences other writers have gone through. I gave my first novel to a “friend of the family” type who said she read the first page and found it so dark she had no more interest and couldn’t go on. That was my first clue that maybe I needed to be searching for a specific type of reader, one who’s into dark intense fiction. And since then I’ve found readers who will give me honest feedback, but in a constructive way. I totally agree with you on the “Okay, you don’t like my character. But tell me why.”

      I also looked around at different writers’ groups without finding the right fit until finally I just started my own. I started with one other writer friend and slowly, as the months and then years went on, we built it up to a whole group as we met people and added them. Our main goal was that the group would feel friendly and like a good place to be, ESPECIALLY if one had doubts about their writing.

      Colorfulpen, I’m so glad I’m getting to know you through your comments! Thank you so much for coming back and supporting me. I really appreciate your presence and your words.

  • Reply QuanishaA 11 July, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    I love NaNoWriMo I feel so much support there unlike other sites where everyone views other writers as competition and are rude. I loved this post and its very true 🙂

    • Reply writecity.wordpress.com 11 July, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      I haven’t yet tried my hand at NaNoWriMo but I really like the energy of it! Thanks for reading too, and for commenting 🙂

  • Reply ashleycliston 11 July, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    I’m normally an advocate of blunt, brutal, lay-me-bare critiques… but, for me, during a first draft (especially a nano-draft) that kind of critique can be absolutely devastating. Those are the critiques I go for after the second re-haul – after the plot has been fully re-structured, characterization has been tightened, and the fat has been cut. I believe that every writer needs the dirty critique at least once before the final draft, and definitely prior to submission.

    But, for me, at least, the best set of readers for a nano-draft are other people who are also working on a nano-draft. Because they get it – they know their writing is (as of that moment) also imperfect. They look for the diamonds in the rough and offer encouragement and support, but not the cut-to-the-bone criticism. My cabin has been huge on this – we have our little group forum where we brainstorm ideas with each other and share excerpts and it’s been a huge motivator.

    • Reply writecity.wordpress.com 11 July, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      That’s so cool. Your cabin sounds awesome! I’ve also been following along on your blog and watching your NaNo progress. You seriously ROCK and are an inspiration. Good luck with the rest of the journey this month!

  • Reply Philip Shiell 11 July, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Hi Lauren,

    Excellent post. You have voiced a lot of the thoughts I have been carrying around with me recently: have I given my writing to the right people to read?
    I’m in a bit of a writing quandary at the moment, and you’re post got me back on the mental track.

    Now I know I need to find the people that I’m writing for; if I can satisfy their “requirements”, then I’ll (hopefully) get that positive feedback that will give me the impetus to push my imagination further, and not just sit here thinking that what I’m writing is a load of self indulgent bullshit that nobody will want to read.

    As a musician (and unpublished writer), a supportive audience is imperative; you need one that understands the music (or writings) and comprehends what you’re trying to say with the pieces you compose, and are willing to go with you in the direction you want to take them.
    Most of all, having such an audience, especially when playing live, is an incredibly dynamic motivator because it enhances your playing ten fold (for my own playing).
    We seek to connect with other human beings, provide enjoyment.
    You’ve put another piece in the jigsaw puzzle for me today. You’ve set me thinking about the audience I need to address with my writing.
    Very thought provoking in a positive way 🙂
    Thanks!

    • Reply writecity.wordpress.com 11 July, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      I think all writers and artists at one time or another have that fear–I know I have for sure–that thought of “What if my work is just a load of self-indulgent bullshit?” And maybe it is when we’re really young and still finding our voice. When I was 12 years old I was writing poems about how I felt like most of life was unfair and against me. And maybe it was self-indulgent bullshit, but at the same time, it was my real experience and I was truly attempting to express it, however clumsily.

      What I can say for sure, is that many writers have given me their stuff to read and they always warn me, “It’s terrible” or “It’s self-indulgent” or “It’s utter crap.” And 10 out of 10 times it is never any of those things. It is always, instead, one human being trying to make sense out of things.

      I loved this comment from you and am very happy that you are out there in the world writing and making music somewhere. Thank you!!!

      • Reply Philip Shiell 12 July, 2013 at 9:10 am

        HI,

        Do you often read for other people?
        Not proof reading, just for general feedback?

        • Reply writecity.wordpress.com 12 July, 2013 at 9:37 am

          I do, actually. I’m part of a writers’ group with quite a mix of writers (fantasy, sci/fi, poetry, lit fic, memoir) and I’ve been a first reader many times for the members and also for other writers I meet along the way. I haven’t acted as a first reader in the past couple of months only because I’ve had kind of a large editing project on my hands. But once that clears out I’ll be open to reading again.

          • Philip Shiell 12 July, 2013 at 10:27 am

            Could you give me more information, i.e prices, etc.
            Do you read a lot of fantasy?

          • writecity.wordpress.com 12 July, 2013 at 11:42 am

            Hey Philip, I saw that your on twitter. How about I send you a direct message with my email address and we can talk more that way?

          • writecity.wordpress.com 12 July, 2013 at 11:45 am

            Just saw your email address in your signature! I’ll email you right now 🙂

  • Reply Whisky Sage 11 July, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    You’re right. I do deserve a better audience. And a Ferrari. Someone give me a Ferrari.

  • Reply QuanishaA 12 July, 2013 at 5:08 am

    Reblogged this on Embrace the Madness and commented:
    Great words of wisdom

  • Reply C.L. 12 July, 2013 at 6:19 am

    I agree wholeheartedly! There are so many writers out there who go either fully one way (being too nice with kind, but unhelpful comments) or the other (hardly any mention of the things they enjoyed and a ton of criticism about what could be improved). So it -is- important to find someone who can help you as well as bolster your confidence. Thank you for writing about it!

  • Reply excelsizeus 12 July, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    That’s a great summary. I have been disappointed with writing groups for the reasons stated above. Finding a niche is really taxing though.

  • Reply Kate is 12 July, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    “When human beings feel emotionally supported and safe, they will thrive and grow,”
    So true.

    • Reply writecity.wordpress.com 13 July, 2013 at 8:42 am

      I stumbled across that idea while reading “To Teach: the Journey of a Teacher” by Bill Ayers. He’s taught preschool through grad school and is an AMAZING teacher. I find his writing is so full of love for people and curiosity for the world. After I finished his book on teaching, I was inspired to share that message of humans needing a safe supportive space in which to learn and grow. I am so happy it resonated with you 🙂

      • Reply Kate is 13 July, 2013 at 5:38 pm

        Thank you. I shall have a look at the book. 🙂

  • Reply lilicasplace 12 July, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Hi Lauren! Very well written post and so true. I love coming to your blog because I learn so many new things. I want to thank you again for always being so supportive of me and stopping by my blog or tweeting positives on my Twitter. I know you’ve probably collected tons, and I didn’t know where to post this comment, but I did nominate you for a Sunshine Blogger Award. Feel free to pick it up at my blog http://wp.me/p38Uaw-bf . Thanks for having such a positive impact on my life. Lily

    • Reply writecity.wordpress.com 13 July, 2013 at 8:44 am

      Thank you so much for the award!!!

      And also thank you so much for supporting me as well. When I started blogging, I really had no idea there was this is friendly, loving, incredible community of writers out there on the internet. You are someone who has really encouraged me to keep going and pushing on with writing, and with blogging.

      So much gratitude for you, thank you so much 🙂

  • Reply kyrahalland 14 July, 2013 at 11:19 am

    hi, thanks for the visit to my blog! 🙂

    great post about finding the right readers for your work and how different kinds of critique work for different people. The things I write are what I have to write, what I’m compelled to write by what’s inside me. I can’t change it to please other people. For my beta readers (I call them “test readers” because I’m really interested in getting the readers’ point of view instead of other writers) I actively look among people I know for avid readers who enjoy my genre and who want to see me succeed. I tell them, I want to know how the book works for you as a reader and what I can do to make it more enjoyable given the plot, characters, setting, theme I already have. And it’s worked out well so far. I’ve gotten honest but genuinely helpful and constructive comments on where the books don’t work (and where they do!)

    • Reply writecity.wordpress.com 14 July, 2013 at 11:24 am

      I love this idea of getting the reader’s point of view instead of other writers. I never thought of it that way before! But it does make total sense that a writer reads something in a different way, rather than the average reader. I know I read most stories in a more detached, looking-for-things way than non-writers. This is a great point you made here, thank you so much for sharing!

  • Reply rcprice 14 July, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Hey, I would like to let you know I nominated you for the Super Sweet Blogger Award. Please check out my latest post for details.

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