God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.
illustration by Carla Wilson
I’m not sure what kind of writer doesn’t struggle with the notion of audience. As a person prone to self-doubt and insecurity when confronting the demands of a blinking cursor, I’ll admit to freezing, backing away more than once at the idea of Being Read. I have, at random times in my life, awoken in the middle of the night seized by an anxious awareness that someone, somewhere could be experiencing a collection of paragraphs once sprung from my hazy mind.
Your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person – a real person you know, or an imagined person – and write to that one.
We’ve played this one before, Reader.
And, Reader, what of this game? We’ve discussed paths and roads, tables, parts of speech, wildlife. We reflected on what a wind-blown leaf might mean in the midst of an existential crisis; I admitted to a disbelief in meaning. We talked of children, boots, fire, food and Johnny Cash. Did we cover it all?
No, there’s so much more, but I’m sorry to say that, to reference the grizzled old poet one more time, our yellow wood roads are diverging. I need to step away from The Gamut.
When my head is in the typewriter the last thing on my mind is some imaginary reader. I don’t have an audience; I have a set of standards. But when I think of my work out in the world, written and published, I like to imagine it’s being read by some stranger somewhere who doesn’t have anyone around him to talk to about books and writing – maybe a would-be writer, maybe a little lonely, who depends on a certain kind of writing to make him feel more comfortable in the world.
Oh, I hope so. I can say this even as I admit that you, Reader, were mostly me all along: the little lonely would-be. This space was my echo chamber, the place I came to cringe at the sound of my own voice returning home—this magazine in the mailbox my version of those cassette players we wondered over as children as a stranger’s voice repeated back words we put in the microphone.
But I also hope that you, the real you, did find something here that made you feel more comfortable and a little less lonely. Of course I did. Why else would I lay myself bare monthly if not as a makeshift communion?
I am a writer, and the only reason to not write one thing is to write another. That’s what this is about. I wrote a novel and signed with a literary agent; the book’s going out into the world soon in search of a home, and already I see another story, a new cast of characters, gathering form in my mind’s eye. By the time this article finds its way to the shelves, I’ll be at work on that. I hope someday you’ll read it, Reader.
To tell you the truth, though, I still haven’t made up my mind whether I shall publish at all. Tastes differ so widely, and some people are so humourless, so uncharitable, and so absurdly wrong-headed, that one would probably do far better to relax and enjoy life than worry oneself to death trying to instruct or entertain a public which will only despise one’s efforts, or at least feel no gratitude for them.
I tossed that one in there for fun, but there’s a kernel of truth in it—I’m always tempted to give up the worry over what you think and just…relax. Even now, I’m writing on a Sunday afternoon, spending the few hours before my work week wrestling with words and syntax, phrases and paragraphs. I would probably do far better to enjoy life but for one undeniable truth: I am a writer. I publicly accepted this fate here in this space a few years back, and so it goes: I write. I’ll submit this piece tomorrow and, later this week, start something new. It’s what I do—a writer writes.
An audience is always warming, but it must never be necessary to your work.
And it has been warming, Reader, knowing you’re experiencing my thoughts alongside me. It’s not necessary, but it’s certainly been a privilege. I am grateful for the opportunity, and I hope that your path going forward is one of comfort and little loneliness. Mine’s not, but that’s okay: I’m a writer.
/ Rodney Wilson is a Cincinnati-based writer and editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at rodneywilson.weebly.com.