Sunday, April 17, 2011

WHO DO I WRITE FOR?

by Wendy Delsol

My good friend, a critique-group partner, and talented writer of literary fiction—Kali VanBaale—recently penned a blog post: Who Do I Write For? I found Kali’s response fascinating. She picked a single person: a fellow writer and voracious reader with an honest editorial voice. Her piece got me thinking…

Who do I write for?

I write both YA and women’s fiction from a female character’s perspective. Additionally, my books have romance elements. With these things in mind, I imagine a fair response is that I write for women and teen readers who like a good love story. I haven’t narrowed things down much, have I?

I suspect this is because I’ve described a market, not a reader.

It’s best, I’m convinced, to leave the genre, shelving and overall “market” questions to publishers and booksellers.

For my part, the writer’s perspective—this particular writer’s perspective—the honest answer to the question is—me. I write for me: past, present, and future. I write for the sixteen-year-old girl who had ambitions and dreams and insecurities and doubts—and was at a crossroads. I also write for the adult woman who still has hopes and goals and misgivings and fears—but with a little perspective.

There is an adage in the writing world: write what you know. If you ask me, this is lousy advice. And potentially boring. I’ve always written what I like to read.

I’m currently writing my seventh novel, one of which has and three of which will see publication. When writing a book, I’m fueled and preoccupied (often to distraction, but that’s another topic). If I had to distill the essence of this zeal to a single concept, I would contend that it’s enjoyment. Once I’m into a story, the process is fun. I want to know what happens next, because I often don’t. It’s still evolving, and I’m both designing and delighting in the experience.

I know there are authors with much loftier goals. I recently had the honor of hearing Gary D. Schmidt talk about who he writes for. He spoke passionately of writing for disenfranchised kids. I think this is wonderful and commendable. Having witnessed his emotional connection to his faith and his compassion, I’d suggest he derives great pleasure in doing so. Again, the enjoyment thing.

Another interesting aspect of Kali’s blog was her MFA instructor’s suggestion that it’s worth pondering the relationship between readership and censorship. With a perceived audience in mind, are you losing any part of your story to pleasing them? Does your intended audience bolster you? Or silence you? Hmmm. Another angle to this worthwhile topic.

Having explored the question and having come to a shameless answer, it is, at any rate, the truth. The only way I know to write an engaging story and to keep the reader turning the page is to write the kind of book I would read myself. Writing is a journey; I honestly do enjoy the ride. When a reader is enthusiastic about my book, I invariably reply, “Thank you. It was fun to write.”

So who do you write for?

6 comments:

  1. What a great post, Wendy. I find it strange when authors write in genres they don't read. (Actually, I'm not sure I've ever come across published authors who do that, but I have heard this statement from others.) It seems to me that you absolutely have to love the genre or type of book you're writing, and that would mean reading in that area, too. Though I understand how, sometimes, if you're deep into writing a book, it can be helpful at that point to read other things. Similarly, sometimes I think people enjoy one thing (light, breezy books, for example) but sit down and feel they have to write something "serious or important" or whatever. And that doesn't work too well, either, a lot of the time. I love writing YA and relate to the delight you described. Congrats on all of your success!

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  2. Great post!!! And you write for the same audiences I do in some ways, I write for the teen at the crossroads and the woman who has some perspective but is still growing. In a way that is what I know because it's what I lived, but I do write what I want to read first and foremost, hence my characters are usually outsiders because I was/still am and I look for those unique voices.

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  3. This made me think and I think my answers are much like yours. Great post!

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  4. "Another interesting aspect of Kali’s blog was her MFA instructor’s suggestion that it’s worth pondering the relationship between readership and censorship. With a perceived audience in mind, are you losing any part of your story to pleasing them? Does your intended audience bolster you? Or silence you? Hmmm. Another angle to this worthwhile topic."

    Yes, indeedy. I know I have no interest in writing for parents who choose their teens' books for them. And I'm a parent. Of teens. :-)

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  5. Great Post!! My books are marketed as YA, but I was totally surprised when I published my first book and found that a large number of adults enjoyed reading it, especially men, and they keep asking me when book two is coming out. So Kali's instructor's advice was right on!

    However, I do write what I know a lot about, music and not fitting into the mainstream. Its a joy to bring a voice to characters who are judged by how they look or what they wear rather than who they really are.

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  6. Thought provoking. I just added this link to my wiki for when I teach writing for children. Something ever writer should think about. Thanks.

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