The Three Audiences

 Ever been in a writing group, and you’ve got that one person who consistently puts out straight boo-boo writing, but is convinced everything they do is perfect, and won’t listen to a single reasonable note?

That can be maddening for others in the writing group who genuinely want to get honest feedback and improve their craft.

But what’s up with this Jackanapes who seems hellbent on never improving one dang bit.

Me, I think it has to do with which audience they’re writing for. See, far as I’m concerned, there are three audiences you can write for (and this can be said of anything creative really — music, painting, interpretive dance, etc.)

1. Yourself

The first audience is You, You, and lookee here, it’s You! Self-expression is what the Jackanapes is all about. She’s got some stuff she wants to get off her chest, and she writes what she likes, without giving much (if any) thought to the reader.

In fact, if a reader criticizes a self-expressionist’s work in any way, then the writer will either dismiss the reader as not “getting it” or possibly take any notes way too personally, because they believe the work is an intimate reflection of themselves as an individual.

Infuriatingly, this kind of writer is happy to stand over every single reader’s shoulder and explain to them exactly what she meant.

But don’t judge too harshly. Many (if not all) writers start off as self-expressionists. While this kinda writing is useless to the rest of the world, it is a major training ground for the writer herself. First, you gotta please you. Then, you can move on to bigger things.

2. A Metaphor for a Mystery

Or God or, y’know, whichever term you prefer to use for that sense that there’s something bigger than yourself. When your creativity is in service of that scary/exhilarating sense of being a part of something too big to fathom, you’re an artist.

Artists chase the inspiration dragon, and throwing everything into creating a work that speaks to something bigger than the ego — or, heck, bigger than all of our egos put together.

It’s a higher calling, and it doesn’t need to follow any conventions or rules because… well, if anyone’s gonna understand what the story’s all about, it’s God.

3. The Reader

The third audience is the reader. Here’s the big hub where most folks reside. Entertainers. The entertainer stays true to her own sensibilities of what makes something engaging, but to truly please the reader, she looks outside of herself, and down to Earth rather than up to the heavens.

The entertainer builds a better rollercoaster, putting in twists n’ turns and loop-de-loops, throwing in some surprises, and following that old saw about giving “the reader what they want, but not in the way they’re expecting.”

There’s plenty of overlap between the three audiences (Kerouac is considered by many to be an artist, though I read him and roll my eyes, seeing only a meandering self-expressionist), but most works are gonna fall into one more than the others.

A quick word of cautious: this idea about three audiences isn’t meant to be a way to judge other books so much as to look at one’s own work and ask the very direct question: “Who am I writing this for?”

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  1. Aud.


    Thank you so much for this! Anybody who writes should think long and hard about his/her audience before foisting it upon others. You explain it so well. Kudos!

  2. sharon lafuente


    I loved this article. The tree audiences could also be seen as the three stages of writing: First, like the oral stage in psychology, we writers write for ourselves. then, when inspiration hits, we write toward a higher power, but then we say to ourselves: ‘Wait a minute, if I want to make a career of this, I have to write toward the readers.’ Keep writing!

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