It is a simple question, really, but one with myriad answers - and perhaps even non-answers, alike. For whom do you write? Do you even know? Hell, do I?
When I sit down at my stone tablet and chisel, ready to compose something witty and hopefully life-altering for my audience, what actually leads me to what I want to say? For my blog, I'm able to do what I want, write what I want, and say the most off-the-wall nonsense that sneaks into my brain because that's exactly what the blog is for. Read at your own risk, right? I'm not writing for anyone but myself, and I might just be the only person who'll ever READ it!
Just kidding. I have twelve committed followers. I'm pretty sure they read this stuff, too. Although....
Okay, so what about when I write/wrote (?) for Charlatan Magazine? Ah....structured creativity, right? Meh, kinda. My editor would tell me what the topic was that he wanted me to write about - a little insight into the flavor of that month's issue - and he'd set me off on my own, ready and able to come up with the most electrifying and educational material the Internet gods were poised to offer up in support of whatever I THOUGHT best conveyed what I gleaned from our conversation. My column went by many names while I wrote for them, but they were opinion pieces at heart. I was tasked with making sure to ask sufficient questions so the reader could form their own opinions about the topic, possibly using what I supplied as the kindling for a dinner party conversation, a water cooler chat (not likely...who still has water coolers?), or maybe even try and impress that hot guy or girl with a couple of lines memorized from my column about why we form groups. I can't tell you how many people I'm responsible for hooking up. At water coolers. You get my point.
But, wait, I'm also a novelist. Wow, say that ten times fast, and it just sounds like you've said something quickly over and over again. Hm...
Anyway, I'm a novelist! That sentence works much better with an exclamation point. And it is with that exclamation point that I scream how freeing it is to create my very own worlds, to give breath to characters, and to brutally murder anyone who doesn't go along swimmingly with the plot twists I've created. I invent fantastic scenarios of deceit and intrigue; I weave prose through my novels and I perch main characters and fluffers, alike, on pedestals by allowing imaginative and manipulative and scary and profound words to slip past their tongues and into the hearts and minds of my readers. Say that ten times fast. (It's okay to laugh or roll your eyes at that.)
Do I create novels for an audience? Do I write my characters in such a way as to appease my readers or find myself listed in Good Reads or so I can get great reviews on Amazon? Nope. I just write.
The more deeply I found myself falling into the quicksand that is writing, pulled along by my absolute love of the written word, and my 100% egotistically insane ability to communicate to my fellow man, the more I found myself caught off guard by people asking me whom I think my audience is. That wasn't a question I had EVER EVER EVER asked myself when I first put chisel to stone and created my first short story. I had no intention of sharing what I'd written with anyone other than my mother, and maybe my sister. They were the only people for whom I wrote in the beginning and they were the only people I wanted to please when it came to writing. But I didn't write things I thought they wanted to hear/read. (NOTE: Funny story about my first attempt at a novel is coming a couple of paragraphs from now. Please read to the end.) I wrote what I thought I wanted to say, what I wanted to express, what I found interesting, whether they liked it or not. Naturally, being my mother and sister, they fawned over my musings with the appropriate amount of 'that's fabulous' and 'okay, I think I've read enough to make him feel good, even though the story was dreadful'. And I thank them for it. Not everything I wrote was good. Not everything I'm GOING to write will be good. But what they did for me in reading each and every piece of drivel I tapped out was give me the confidence to continue honing what I was good at. Nobody who loves you is ever going to tell you that what you wrote sucks. That's what teachers and literary agents and editors and pre-readers are for.
I love it when people ask me about my audience and I tell them I don't really have an audience. Maybe it's because I write so many varied things - from columns to my attempts at comedy to political fiction to general fiction (and now fictional autobiographies). Truth be told, I don't WANT to have an audience relying on me for the next 'Novel X'. Okay, stop. That wasn't a knock or a cheap shot at anyone. For all of my fellow writers who just guffawed at that statement, and may have been personally offended by something imaginary they read, it's okay. I'm with you. Shake your head and fists and tell me that I'm wrong. Because to you, I am. To you, you're making money (please, Lawd!) by writing a specific genre, or maybe by contributing to the growth of a specific genre. I have a friend from high school, Jeanette Battista (hey, girl!) who writes wonderful novels about fictional worlds - and she does so poetically and very well. That is her niche, and her audience adores her for it. And THAT is the beauty of writing. You have the ability each and every day to get up and write exactly what you want. For whom you want. Or no one at all.
Here's the story:
When I was in high school, getting better and better at creative writing, I found a book in my sister's closet. It was (drum roll and angels singing)...."Hollywood Wives", by Jackie Collins. Holy HELL was that book dirty. And simply wonderful for the imagination of a high-school kid who thought he knew his way around a tablet and chisel. Well, I got to writing, using every bit of my brain power I could muster, trying to replicate the absolute filth I'd read in Ms. Jackie's own hand. I had about two chapters in the can. And then my mother found it. And that's when I heard my mother curse for the first time. And then she threatened me that if she ever read anything like that by me again, she would do something unspeakable to my physical person! (Okay, so I don't really remember WHAT she said, but she was devil-on-fire PISSED and I never forgot it.) And I've never written to an audience since that day. LOL
So back to what I was saying.
If you're lucky, you'll get to write for people who enjoy your product. For me, that is the ultimate goal: for people to simply enjoy what I'm putting in front of them. I do have one caveat, though, that I think probably requires some full disclosure here. I don't write for a particular audience, but I DO always write my main characters (and I'm talking about novels here) as minorities and women. You read all the time that actors and actresses of color don't get roles for one reason or another, maybe having to do with BEING a minority in the industry. I make it a POINT to write strong minority and women characters, but I don't write FOR minorities or women. Does that make sense? A great character is a great character no matter their ethnicity or color or sexual perversion...eh, proclivity, eh, persuasion, eh, preference...or whatever. Write well and the character will be fully adopted by your reader. I firmly believe that. Shonda could have made Olivia Pope anybody under the sun - she didn't HAVE to be a black girl...could have done the same job as a white girl...but the writing is what captures you, and it's what brings you back each week, and it's what makes us all want to be Gladiators. (Except for a little bit last season when I thought maybe old girl had fallen and hit her head - but she's back and the writing is stronger than ever.) Okay, I digressed a little there. I write to provide entertainment and enjoyment, with a side eye on helping minorities and women achieve their dreams in Hollywood. Everybody's got a dream. What's yo' dream? ('Pretty Woman' reference, you're welcome).
Listen, here's the thing I want you to take away from the rambling and whatever dangling participles you identified. If you're a writer or want to be a writer or think writers are cute and you're trying to hook up with one at the water cooler by slaying them with a witty reference from one of my columns, you're in luck. Or if you're a reader who absolutely gets down with authors and novelists and doesn't give a shit about water cooler chattery (trademark), instead you burn your eyeballs through a book a week, know that there aren't ANY limits to what you can write OR to what you can read. It might take years of broken stone tablets and mangled chisels, or maybe you think you've read every shitty author out there, salvation might just be right around the corner. Somebody out there is writing something for you. And, hopefully, like me, they're writing something for themselves.