If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Audience*

An email conversation with Julie (what a world we live in where the phrase "email conversation" actually makes sense, eh?) got me thinking about audience. I've written before about some of the reasons I started blogging: to expand my writer's voice outside of academic rhetoric and to more actively participate in the conversation I was following on academic blogs. As both voice and conversation are welded to audience I think it makes sense to address it here.

While I do not teach writing as a course I do infuse teachings about writing in all my courses and my interactions with my student research team. I do this because I think education is about extending our thinking and I believe writing is directly related to thinking. Often we don't know what we think until we write it down. The act of writing leads to a re-vision of both our thinking and our written work. But I, once again, digress.

One of the things I like to discuss with my students is the concept of audience. Identifying your intended audience while you are writing affects your writing deeply. Sometimes the effect is positive but often it can be negative. Not having a specific audience or having multiple audiences often leads to muddled writing. More often we have critical audiences in our heads and this can cause very stilted, overly careful writing or no writing at all. I like to tell students that we can not only choose the audience in our mind but we can change that audience with each draft.

For myself, if I'm writing an academic piece--particularly one that is difficult or new to me--my first audience is two of my BFFs and partners-in-research-crime: A-girl and Sparkle (otherwise known as "the girls"). We've worked together for years doing collaborative writing and sharing drafts. They "get me," they know my work, they always provide useful suggestions and positive feedback. Now I'm not saying I necessarily show them the piece but my first draft is written (almost as a letter) to them. This way I can explain my work and my ideas to a friendly and supportive audience. It makes it easy to get a draft out. However once the draft is written I realize that, since they know my work so well, I have let out details and the draft would be confusing to people without an intimate knowledge of my agenda. So my next draft is either to a friendly colleague at work or, if I'm feeling confident, an imaginary friendly reviewer. The final draft is usually written to an imaginary critical reviewer or my previous boss/mentor--who is skeptical of the type of research I do now. This forces me to write tightly and to "cover my a$$," if you will.

So what does this have to do with blogs and email conversations, you ask? Well exactly that--I now have a "you" that is asking (ok, maybe you're not but I now imagine you asking). When I started this blog my "audience" was a faceless, nameless blogosphere. I started writing not knowing if I would continue but more importantly not knowing who, if anyone, would be writing. Now I have a--admittedly very small-- handful of regular readers who not only provide feedback through comments and email but I follow their stories and know them (in that strange kind of knowing but not really knowing internet-way).

So I've been asking myself--who am I writing to? How does it change my writing? And what about the ones who don't comment (yes I know there are at least a few lurkers out there)--how do they affect my writing? I also think about my archive. I realize that both my present and past writing is out there for yet-to-be-discovered audiences--how does that idea affect my writing? Or maybe it doesn't?

In some ways it definitely feels easier to come up with post topics and to write them as I have a specific and friendly audience in mind. However, as I often do with friends, I'm more likely to blurt out personal information that might best be left unsaid/written. Blogs are a public forum and not a private conversation. What might be understood or appreciated in the context of friendship can be taken quite differently by a stranger. In truth we are writing for two very different audiences. Keeping that balance in mind and not producing muddled or stifled writing is a tricker task than I first imagined.

*Much of my thinking on writing in this post is based on books I've read on strategies of writing (academic: Boice & Silvia, creative: Le Guin & Brande) and teaching writing (Elbow).

4 comments:

Julie said...

Oh, yes. It's so different than writing for a book or publication, isn't it? With a journal, there's usually not much instant feedback, unless an editor calls or e-mails, which sometimes happens. But it's still different. Blogging seems more friend-to-friend. And yes...I have also mentally created faces for the people I have met. I worry a lot more about offending people than I used to. I'm not sure if that's good or bad for my art. Hmmm...

Another thing I've been thinking about lately is the commenting aspect of blogging, because a friend of mine told me I do it all wrong. She said I'm supposed to go on fifty different sites and say "great job" but not really spend time reading or commenting, because the idea is to get my name out there as much as possible. Huh??? Is that true? That seems so phony to me.

I'd prefer to find a handful of people I like and engage in a discussion with them. I've met some awesome people like you, and we have had a "workshop" of sorts that has actually helped my writing quite a bit.

And does anybody really think they're going to get famous as a blogger? Ha! That's nuts!

Very interesting again. Thank you!! Have a great afternoon.

Brigindo said...

That's an interesting thought about the comments. When doing IComLeavMo I had a problem leaving those short impersonal comments. Sometimes blog just don't do it for me, for whatever reason and it does feel phony to say "good job" or "that sucks" and move on. I found the people who visited me and stayed around were people I left more substantial comments for (and vice versa), I guess because we connected in some way. I agree I'd rather have a small group of readers who are really interested and who I find interesting than some large impersonal group. But I guess it depends on why you are blogging. I don't see myself posting ads or becoming a force in the general blogging world.

Deb said...

i could not leave that impersonal of a comment on anothers blog. that's the reason i had such a hard time during NCLM, there were so many IF'ers I never really felt like I had much I could offer to them - not much more than a sorry, which seemed entirely to "empty".
As far as writing for an audience - I've never really thought about it too much. I expect that some of the posts I write I do think about who may read them and know that I am expecting a response from that person or those people. Otherwise I think I just write what is on my mind, but then again I am always looking for a response...Hmmmm, now you have me thinking about audience.

Eliza said...

Yes, blogging is weird...I think I err on the side of the Massive Overshare, but then I am also compulsively anonymous. It's a strange mix. My readers hear more of my innermost thoughts than any other "audience" I have, which is odd...originally I wanted my blog to be informative and entertaining and a happy place, but then my life went to hell and it become more of a thought-dumping cyberlandfill.

Funnily enough I think my comments on OTHER people's blogs lately (not this one, perhaps, but the one I left on Julia Hippogriff's recent vasectomy post or Cecily of Uppercase Woman's post from earlier today, for two examples right off the top of my head) are more entertaining and/or insightful than anything that ends up on my own blog. Sooner or later psychology will catch up with technology and there will probably be a name for this in the DSM-IV (or maybe they'll do a special Blogosphere edition to describe the mental ailments of everyone from Oversharers to trolls and whatever you would call what I just described...). I really struggled with NaComLeavMo and IComLeavWe too, because I'd either get sucked into someone's blog and spend all my computer time for the day rifling through their archives or else read it, think "that is THE single most vapid and poorly-written thing I've ever seen" and be at a loss for what to say that is honest and positive and something more than "Here from NCLM!" with maybe some smilies or something lame after it (not that you are lame if you are reading this and left that as a comment on my blog--it's not for everyone and I appreciate all comments!).