Thursday, August 28, 2008

Reader's know best. Or do they?

I tell my students that learning from others' response to our writing is essential, but following my own advice isn't always easy.

Once I showed a book proposal on family life that I had written to my husband. I had poured energy and creativity into the proposal and had high hopes that I would land a contract with it.

My husband wasn't so sure. "I think it's entertaining and easy to follow," he said. "But--like home videos--I think it would only be interesting to us."

I grabbed the pages from him and sputtered inside, "What does he know? Pennsylvania Township News and Gravel Today are his main reading material. He never even reads for pleasure."

Imagine my consternation three months later when the manuscript was returned. The editor's comment: This well-written manuscript is entertaing and easy to follow but probably not relevant enough to anyone outside your family..."

My husband could have saved the editor the time, and saved me the rejection--if I'd listened.

To be honest, I think it's difficult to find the right balance. If I don't think about my reader, I won't write material worth reading. If I think too much about what my reader needs or want, I get writing paralysis.

How do you deal with this quandary?


Suzanne said...

I think it all boils down to your goals of writing...are they to be published? If so, then remembering your audience is critical. And finding the right venue for your point of view is helpful. Say, for example, writing an article about interesting people who compost their garbage (moi!) might belong in Organic Gardening, rather than Parenting Teenagers. But if you're writing for yourself--journaling or as a legacy for your grandchildren--then forget the audience! Just go write!