Who are you writing for?

My inspiration for writing blog pieces often comes from interesting discussions I see on social media, particularly those that crop up again and again. And this one is no different.

Most often, people ask questions over and over because there are no definitive answers, or because the people posing them do not like the answers they have been given before. In other words, they know what they want to do, but require confirmation, reassurance or permission.

Unfortunately for them, there may be a million and ones ways of doing something, but no shortage of writers telling you their way is the only one. Some things never change!

One such question is, who are you writing for? It came up again recently when a writer wanted to include some cultural references in her novel which she suspected would be too obscure for many, if not most, readers. She felt they were apt and even essential to the story she wished to tell.

I do sympathise, as I often hand a manuscript to my wife and her feedback invariably includes this exchange:

“What does that mean?”
“It’s a popular cultural reference.”
“Well, I’ve never heard of it.”
“But everyone knows that!”
“Well, I don’t”
“Well, you’re the only one in the world who doesn’t, then!”

This can continue for days, with me becoming more and more childish and defensive, until I ask a few ‘worldly’ people who invariably agree with my wife. I feel my brilliance is sometimes under appreciated.

My particular method of dealing with this issue is to replace the reference, even if the substitution is inferior to the original or requires a written work-around. This may smack of compromise or a betrayal of artistic freedom, but it actually fits smoothly inside my writing philosophy and intentions.

My ambition is to write ‘invisibly,’ so that readers can finish my novel with no recollection of reading, as though they have been told a story with zero effort on their part. This means they must not be allowed to leave the pages of my book – except, perhaps, for toilet breaks – to look up a word, ask a friend or Google a cultural reference, thereby reminding them they are actually reading.

The majority of social media responses were the opposite of my approach and encouraged the writer to stick to her guns and include the material. Too bad, they cried, if readers don’t get it they can look it up on the internet or ask someone what it means. You are the writer, they insisted, perhaps slamming a fist down on the table for emphasis, the author! Do not compromise your art!

All well and good, I suppose, but the very thought of doing that makes me shiver. I write to satisfy both myself and my readers, so I feel anything, regardless of brilliance, excellence or perfection, can, and sometimes must, be sacrificed if it is likely to cause a readers to trip, pause or stop reading.

Am I sacrificing artistic integrity? I don’t think so. I am merely taking my readers into consideration and hopefully making sure that they are literally on the same page as my intentions.

And besides, my novels are completely implausible, so the last thing I want is for readers to stop and think!