As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been writing stories and poems for as long as I can remember. I started in early childhood, inspired by song lyrics and the wide variety of books handed down to me by much older family members. As I grew older I began keeping a journal, writing down story ideas, exploring my neurosis, and trying to understand myself better. I think it’s been cheap therapy for me and a way to figure how who I am and how to be the person I want to be.
But the other day I was working on a short story and as I read over the draft I began to wonder who the audience would be for this piece. When I’m writing I only think about the story and the characters, who they are, what they’re doing, where they’re going. I never think about how I should market it, who I should try to sell it to, or who might be interested in reading it. I worry about those points once I’ve finished the last draft and have a final copy staring me in the face.
Why don’t I consider my audience when writing? And should I? It was strange that I’d never thought about it before during the drafting stage. I assume that many authors do, at least, genre authors. If someone is writing a YA novel, then it’s safe to assume they are thinking about the teens and pre-teens who will be reading it once it’s published. Same goes for spy novelists, or erotic novelists…they probably have a good idea of who purchases these stories and have these people in mind while drafting.
Does keeping a specific audience in mind help the story in any way? It seems to me that if I’m focused on trying to write to an audience the story would evolve differently than if I simply focused on the narrative. With the former, I’m potentially changing the natural progression of the story to fit what I think a reader wants. In the latter, the story progresses on its own, finding whatever path best suits the narrative.
I can see an argument for both. In writing to an audience I might be improving my chances for publication and finding readers. If all I care about are numbers and the bottom line, this would be the route I’d choose. But I don’t really care about those things. Sure, I want to be published and have people read and enjoy my work. When it comes right down to it that’s what all writers want. To me, however, money and popularity are secondary. I just want to tell a good story. If people read and enjoy my work, then I’m happy. I don’t need much more than that.
When it comes down to the bottom line, I write for two reasons – first, because I have to. I have an urge, a calling, a need to write. I have words and stories tumbling around in my head creating one hell of a racket. I need to get those words and stories out and onto the page. The second reason is what I mentioned above: I want to tell a good story. I’ve written a lot over the years but only a handful of my stories have been published. Part of that is my fault for being too critical and insecure. But I’m proud of the few that have made it into print, especially so when I hear from a reader who enjoyed the piece they read. Hearing, “I liked that story”, means more to me than a paycheck.
I know, that’s not very capitalistic of me. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to turn down a paycheck. I’m not THAT crazy. Money is secondary to me as an author. I write because I want to, because I have to. I would be fine if I never published another story, as long as I continue to write. It may not put food on the table, but it keeps me grounded.