Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Audience Relativity

Hello from grad school! The good news is I’ve been doing a ton of writing lately. The bad news is that my writing has been noticeably devoid of dragons, robots, and zombies. Only statistical analysis and technical jargon as far as the eye can see. But that’s not to say I’m not learning about the craft!

A friend of mine gave me something a while back that I’ve been meaning to share with you good folks. The following is an excerpt from ‘Understanding Writing Blocks’ by Keith Hjortshoj.

“We can easily become lost in time and space while writing because, when it is viewed as a whole process that includes the reader, writing is a relativistic medium. In other words, what I am writing now is connected with what you eventually read, but in different reference frames. I am sitting here in my office at a particular time, working on page 24 of this manuscript. You are reading the words I write, so I am communicating something to you. While I am writing, however, you are not yet reading, and the specific text you read does not yet exist in the form you have. To write I must at least vaguely imagine a reader, and while you are reading you can imagine me writing what you read, but neither vision is very reliable. I don’t really know how this writing will strike you, and while I must have a sense of audience in mind, to enjoy the freedom of writing I also need to remember that you remain a figment of my imagination—one whose responses I can’t control. In turn, you are probably not on page 24, and although you might assume that I wrote this passage before the sections and chapters that follow, I did not. I’m inserting these paragraphs into a full draft of the book, which will no doubt change in other ways before you read it. I might decide to take this passage out again, so at the moment I can’t be sure that it will ever reach you, my imagined reader. Yet the decisions I make will directly affect the outcome.”

Pretty trippy huh? 

Other than the obvious fact that Mr. Hjortshoj (how the heck do you pronounce that?) is operating at a much higher level than myself, what do we take from this passage?

Here are my thoughts:

My writing will have an audience (hopefully) but as a writer, I have no way of knowing where, when, and in what social, historical, or personal context my words will reach said audience. Therefore, it might be more useful to keep the concept of an audience as a vague notion rather than to tailor my writing to some specific audience, a target I’m almost sure to miss. We’ve all heard of authors or playwrights whose works were unappreciated in their own time only to achieve critical and popular success decades or centuries later. Surely those individuals weren’t shooting for a target audience generations down the road. I think I’ll write for an audience of one (me) and let the world do with my writing what it will.

What about you? What did you get out of the passage?


  1. This is too deep for me! But I love your thoughts, Adam. Now my brain hurts... ;-)

  2. My thoughts mirror yours on this. It's impossible to guess who out there will enjoy any given story, so the smartest thing to do is to write what you enjoy to the best of your abilities!

  3. Every published author will say the same thing: write what you love to read and write. I think you're spot-on. Congrats on pursuing your grad degree. I remember how much work that was! Go you!

    1. It is a ton of work but I think it will be worth it.


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