Writers have great imaginations, but virtually every writer has, at some point, had difficulty imagining his or her audience.
I propose that this is partially a side effect of the expectation that writers should isolate ourselves. If we therefore spend a lot of time in our heads, creating and imagining, the person we’re writing to might not exist in reality. Since we’re isolated and alone, we’re not likely to meet this person, either.
Therefore, it’s in our best interest, as writers, to collaborate with other writers or creative types, people who understand our inner world because they appreciate it, believe in it, or somehow speak its ‘language.’ You know who that person is: s/he is someone you feel comfortable enough sharing your writing with, someone who focuses less on errors and fixing your writing, and more on what you’re trying to say or accomplish with your story. This ideal reader, like Albert Einstein, could say “I have no special abilities; I am only passionately curious.”
How do we access this ‘passionately curious’ reader if we don’t yet have a trusted writing partner, someone we can share our writing with? This reader is not what I would call a critique partner. I’ve had those. Even the writing partners who mean well, offering valuable advice that improves your writing skills, might not be the reader you really need, who sympathizes with you and the story you’re trying to tell.
In my experience, most critique happens long before your story has sufficient structure and purpose, and may end up doing more harm than good. Critique often stands in for copy-editing, and instead of allowing the writer to develop his or her thoughts and form a solid direction, nips incipient creativity in the bud far too early.
There’s often a gap between the writing we produce and the writing we’ve got in our heart or mind’s eye. The difficulty will be finding the person who cares less about mistakes and more about what’s preventing you from telling the story you could tell if you had the right inspiration.
As writers, we share a fundamental hope. Somewhere deep inside we hope that our thoughts and feelings will be of interest to our readers. It’s this hope we nurture when we begin to write.
However, if, like me, you were trained by society to suppress your feelings, to forget your experiences and never speak of them, is it any surprise that when we sit down to write a story or essay that tells the truth, we stop ourselves with negative messages?
This is an insidious and debilitating process: I want to write, but I can’t let myself. We end up abandoning ourselves. We really need someone’s permission to say what needs to be said, yet we can’t allow ourselves to be that vulnerable. How, then, can we get past this fear and reconnect with our deep desire to write—complete with the conviction that our words are valuable?
One way is to make use of the powerful imagination writers have.
Sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, let the tension leave your body as you exhale. For a few minutes, sit quietly and pay attention to your breathing. Try not to think about much of anything. The goal is to relax your mind, release self-judgement, and allow self-acceptance.
Visualize your friendly, curious reader sitting across from you. This person accepts you no matter what you do, and is interested in everything you say. Remember the last conversation you had with this person, how openly you shared your ideas and feelings, realizing their significance as you spoke, knowing they would be received with understanding.
See his or her receptive, caring face and simply begin to tell your story. Open your eyes, pick up a pen and write to that friend. And now you’ve found your audience, for the time being at least. You’ve imagined what it feels like to have the ideal reader.
The next step is to find that friend in the real world, and share your imagination with him or her. This is the purpose of the Collaborative Writer forum; it exists with the intention of connecting writers who, hopefully, will end up trusting each other enough to share their writing with each other in a collaborative, not competitive, environment.