Monday, March 13, 2017

Screw the Audience

Dude, screw the audience.

They mean well. They wait so patiently for you to finish your work, then read it. In some cases, (hi, Internet!) they helpfully point out what they liked about your piece or, most often, what totally sucked, which is very constructive criticism.

One of the biggest issues I have when going into the writing process is that idea of audience. Now, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, I can write through a piece easily because I am confident about my concept, what I want to do with it, and how I can build on it. No, the problem starts when I’m sitting at my laptop and that stupid sticker I plastered near the keyboard of Garfield hugging a nug of weed is winking at me and I’m wracking my brain for ideas that won’t come.

Then the rhetorical questions start.

What can I do that’s different? What can I do that will make people go, wooooow, what a genius, please let me buy your currently nonexistent book immediately (be the first of your friends to give me money!!!!).

It is in these moments, these pre-writing brainstorming sessions where I can’t find anything to say that the naysayers start creeping in. Quit while you’re ahead, they cackle at me. Your audience won’t get the concept anyway.

I think that’s when we need to start ignoring the audience. Oftentimes, we (okay, me) fall into this trap of trying to write something that’s universally appealing or perfect in its first draft. Sometimes we have to accept - again, me - that someone, somewhere is going to hate what you write. That terrible review or rejection is going to happen, probably over and over again, but it should not inhibit the writing process.

Funnily enough, the inspiration for this blog post comes from an essay I read last semester for ENC 6700, a course we take at FAU that focuses on writing methodology and rhetoric. The article, titled “Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience” is focused on helping our students write through any writer’s block that comes up while drafting academic essays by teaching them to, at first, not consider the audience at all. The author, Peter Elbow, found that when students were hung up on how to compose for an academic audience, they couldn’t even begin the writing process. While Elbow was specifically focused on academia, I have run into the same problem myself as a creative writer. Too often, I’m worried about the reception a piece will get even before I’ve started writing the damn thing.

So, how do I move past this idea of audience so I can actually produce the work I want to be writing? I have found that the simplest, and yet hardest, thing to do is just keep going. I take those negative things my imaginary audience is yelling at me and use them as motivation to develop the idea at hand.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. But hey, I’ll take it. And the audience can suck it.

With that being said, please buy my future books!

Mary Mattingly is a fiction candidate in her first year in Florida Atlantic University's MFA program. Originally from the Detroit, Mich. area, she is very bad at writing bios and unsure of how to end this one, whoops, looks like we're done here.

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