“And if I had an audience
I’d ask them to leave.
How can I give them what I can’t receive?
How can I pray, when I just don’t believe?”
~Slow by The Fratellis
The audience is probably the main character of your story and you don’t even know it. They are the catalyst to every action, the skewed mirror reflecting every move you make. They create the continuous feedback loop informing your every move or stall.
Maybe your audience is your family. Maybe your friends and co-workers. Maybe you have an actual audience, sitting in seats or dancing in aisles while they listen to you sing, read, speak, preach, or pray. Maybe your audience consists of the people who parade through your home judging your photo galleries on the all, or your reading collection on the book shelves.
Maybe you aren’t even sure who your audience consists of, maybe it has taken on a mind of its own–become an anonymous blob of judgment and fear rendering you paralyzed because you can’t tell who is there for support and who is there to spy on, exploit, or enrage you.
I think I wrote more authentically when I knew only three or four people were actually reading what I wrote. I think I sang more earnestly when I was only singing in church. For some of us, the audience we attract by being “ourselves” turns us against “ourselves.” We don’t know what to do with it. Even on a small scale.
I mean, look. I am not famous, by any means. I only have 1400+ followers and for the last year and a half, I didn’t know what to do with that. It’s easy to write for an audience when they’re anonymous. It’s a lot harder to write honestly when you know you may run into Suzie Q. (your mom’s former best friend’s niece’s, dog-walker’s Godmother) at the grocery store and now she knows things about you that you absolutely NEVER would have told her in passing or even over a bottle of wine. Because you falsely believed there was a wall between Writers and Audience that would keep you safe from in-person confrontation or judgment. Or, because you believed you weren’t on anyone’s radar to begin with, and that your Main Character (The Audience) would never actually appear for a table read.
Then, they do.
And the anonymous readers, when you look into it, are really fine. Because they probably aren’t even really reading your writing, and even if they are, they are doing it for reasons that have absolutely fuck-all to do with you as a writer or a person. So you can let those go, you can move on without worrying about the anonymous followers/readers.
BUT. But… the thing “they” don’t tell you, is that… the bigger number of anonymous followers you have, the bigger number of NON-anonymous followers as well.
It’s easy to write for an audience when your life is going well, or hilariously wrong.
It’s a lot harder to write freely when your life isn’t funny. When your life is full of doubts and karmic retribution and chaos. When you know your aunt who doesn’t believe in divorce might be reading your blog entry about how amazing it is to be single after 20 years of marriage. Or when you know that people who were rooting for you to be the beacon of truth and grace and perfection, find out you are really just human after all.
It’s hard to get to know your audience and then, subsequently, write what they want to read. But you have to do it.
The audience is the main character, after all.