At a recent poetry reading, I was asked if I wrote for a particular ideal reader, something I hadn’t given much thought to. So here I am laboring on Labor Day in response to that question.
When I’m writing non-fiction, which usually takes the essay form, I have to constantly think about what my reader needs to know in order to follow whatever point I’m trying to make. I also must present adequate support for my ideas that include convincing, concrete details. Being constantly aware of who you’re addressing is a fundamental rhetorical device as I learned after teaching incoming freshmen/women for many years. Our imagined audience can determine the direction of our prose.
When I’m writing fiction or poetry, I also must keep in mind how a reader might receive a scene or line of poetry. What clarifications do I need to include? Have I given enough descriptive detail to make a setting or character come alive? Can the images be sharpened or intensified? Will the dialogue make sense to the average, literate reader? Have I made clear what’s driving the characters?
But most of these questions surface in the revision stage. As I’m writing a first draft, I don’t want to consider for a minute who might read my work unless I want to totally shut myself down. I just want to focus on the material and let it bloom in whatever way that feels natural to it. I agree with Ursula LeGuin’s belief that “Every story must make its own rules and the writer should obey them.” If I were focused on what a particular reader might feel or think about the content, I would inhibit myself and write derivative prose.
So while I do have readers in mind as I work, I don’t write for a particular reader. An ideal reader. That would undermine the purpose of what I’m doing. I write for most literate readers; that’s my audience . While I don’t have a specialized audience in mind, my material demands some sophistication from those who read it. I assume that if someone has chosen to read something I’ve published, s/he has the skills to enter into the world I’m creating with the words I choose. And I welcome all of you, including those who have read this post!