Friday, October 14, 2005

RI: Who Do I Write For?


Every once in a while, I hear novelists discussing the all-important topic of "Who Do I Write For?" Nobody appeals to all readers, and that's just a painful fact of life. So novelists (and their pesky marketing departments) like to know who their demographics are.

Tweens? Teens? Twenty-somethings? Gen-X? Gen-Y? Gen-anything?

Boomers? Fogies? Men? Women? Other? College-grads? High-school grads? Seekers? Finders? Losers? Weepers?

I suppose it makes a difference. But there's another way to look at it, which is to get spiritual. A novelist can throw up his hands and say, "Well I write for an audience of one. I write for Jesus." I know a fair number of novelists who say exactly this.

And that's nice, but I bet the marketing folks are wondering how many books Jesus buys. (Oh, those Mammonish marketing mavens! Not very spiritual, are they?)

In my view, the spiritual dodge is kind of a cheat. It's changing the meaning of the word "for" in the question "Who do I write for?"

It's like Bill Clinton saying that it depends what the meaning of the word "is" is. The plain meaning of the original question is "Who is my target reader?" When you spiritualize it, you're changing the meaning of the question to, "Who am I trying to please with my writing?"
Don't get me wrong, I think that's an excellent question. A novelist who doesn't have his priorities straight isn't going to get much else straight. Of COURSE a Christian novelist is writing to please Jesus.

Duh!

But let's be clear. Jesus doesn't read my books. Or yours. Or anybody else's. He doesn't buy the varmints, he doesn't write Amazon reviews for them, he doesn't recommend them to his friends.

The marketing people want to know who's buying and who's reviewing and who's doing that word-of-mouth thing.

They're right, of course, in some green-eyed way, dollar-signed, CPA kind of way. That question is important for figuring out that market-positioning crap.

But that's not important to the novelist, who really is asking a third kind of question: "What kind of reader am I writing to please?" Novelists don't do cold-hearted calculational market-positioning. Not if they're Artistes, anyway. And we're all Artistes, here, thank you. We're not art-prostitutes. We don't sell to the highest bidder. We write for our inner Artiste.

And there, I think is the answer to the original question.

I write for me.

I know it sounds selfish and egotistical and arrogant. Yeah. It is all that. I think it's also the only way to create art. I write for me. I write the kinds of books that I'd like to read. I write to whack ME in the gut. I write to touch MY emotions. I write to keep ME awake half the night turning pages when I already know how it turns out.

I write for me.

And in doing so, I get all those other things too.

If I'm a real Christian and I'm writing for me, then by gum, I'll be writing something that pleases Jesus. (Ooh, that rhymes! I could write a song about that.)

If I'm a real human (and some would debate the point) and I'm writing in a way that zings my emotional buttons, then I just betcha I'll zing a few of yours too. Whether you're a Gen-Xer or a Tweener, or a Fogey. Whether you're Man or Woman or Other. See, that's one of the big points of those irritating know-it-all cultural anthropologists.

As I understand it, these folks claim that there are two fundamental things to know about people:

1) All people are completely different
2) All people are completely alike

Latching onto Door Number 2 there, I conclude that "writing for me"
is the same as "writing for you" or "writing for Joe Schmoe" or "writing for Australian aborigines". And here's the thing--Door Number 1 implies that I'll actually have something new and interesting to say to all those folks, because I'm completely different from them. And different means interesting.

So I write for me. I claim that writing for me is the only real way to be a genuine, Grade-A, first-class artiste. I claim that writing for me is the only way to really make Jesus happy. I claim that writing for me is the only way to write something so authentic and so new that readers out there will flock to me in droves.

I claim that writing for me is the only way to avoid being a publishing slut.

I could be wrong in all this. But I think I'm right. I think you know it. You know it because you're just like me.

Only different.
--
Randy Ingermanson
Publisher, Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/

5 Comments:

At 3:05 AM, Blogger relevantgirl said...

Randy,

Interesting post! I would add that God seems to be near when I write, that He surprises me as I write with joy. To create a piece of written art is to write for me, which is one thing God created me to do. I can feel His smile when I do it.

 
At 3:05 AM, Blogger relevantgirl said...

BTW, this blog should enable word verification. You'll find it on your dashboard. That will rid you of the spam comments.

 
At 2:08 PM, Anonymous vasthi said...

Randy-
Yes, yes and yes. After hearing all these writers say how they write for the lost, hurting, Jesus, etc, etc, I felt very unspiritual. Maybe I just wasn't at their level. But truth be told- I write because it brings me pleasure. So I'm with you I write for me and God is glorified in the process because this is how he made us.
Vasthi

 
At 2:47 PM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

Excellent blog, Randy. I used to struggle with feeling selfish when I painted a picture or made a quilt because I thought I was being selfish, but then I realized (or God showed me, LOL) God is a creative being, we are created in His image, thus we are creative, too. I KNOW God enjoyed creating the world. The Bible says so (Genesis 1, "God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.")

So it makes perfect sense that we write for ourselves. We desire to create and be pleased by what we create, just as God did, just as God made us to be.

And if our hearts are set on God, our creater, our faith will shine through naturally.

Thanks for the reminder!

 
At 10:23 PM, Blogger Vennessa said...

What about writing for the New Zealand kiwi's?

It's a good job I write for me. Imagine the mess I would be if I wrote for anyone else.

Interesting post, Randy. Hope to see you here more often.

 

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