Who’s in Charge Here?

When I taught comp and rhetoric as an adjunct, I emphasized to my class the importance of writing to an audience, of addressing your argument to an audience. A notion that went against 99 percent of what I believed about writing, especially my own writing.

I understood the notion. In some instances, you know your audience, and you have to write to them, addressing them. They will expect some expertise, some research, some knowledge of the subject at hand,  some idea you know what the hell you’re talking/writing about.

But as I understood it, writing was its best when the writer wrote to please himself first, tangling with his obsessions and theories, and sometimes just to have fun, as novelist William Hjorstberg writes about his first published novel, Alp.

At 27, I was little better than a bum. Still, I’d written all my life and couldn’t stop now. I simply gave up any hope of making it my career. I also gave up all my acquired “writing rules.” (Write about what you know.  Writing is serious work. Never write when stoned.) I broke all the rules. From now on, I would write only for my own amusement. It was all about having fun.

I started a comic fantasy set in a make-believe Switzerland and peopled with foolish mountain climbers, trolls, witches, honeymooners; simply making the whole thing up from day to day without a clue what would happen next. I wanted only to surprise myself.

I struggled with the notion of writing to an audience  in the newsroom. There it seemed existed an idea that your audience was out beyond the borders of your desk, and you had to outguess them, and figure out what their tastes were. Sometimes, editorial control seemed relinquished to those who may or may not buy the paper.

As more and more newspapers collapse, could relinquishing editorial control to the audience, to what sells, be part of the problem? As publishing seems to be following in folding, perhaps the loss of editorial control to sales and marketing at publishing houses is  part of the problem.

That’s what’s suggested in this post at Holt Uncensored.

Maybe  “give ’em what they want” is a chunk of the problem in the national financial crisis. This post at TomDispatch makes a connection between the collapse of publishing and the automaking crisis.

Or maybe not. What do you think, audience?


Editor’s Note: The links above and the grim news about publishing came from brief entry at Bookslut.


2 thoughts on “Who’s in Charge Here?

  1. I think a writer should write what feels right to them. The exception to this rule would be if you are writing to sell something. In that case only would I worry about the audience.

    Also – in the world of eBooks – publishing is just getting started and it isn’t folding at all.


  2. I think what you write depends on your goals. If you want to be read, then you have to write what is readable and interesting. That doesn’t mean you can’t push the envelope, break the rules or please yourself, but you have to think about what you’re doing and do it with purpose. You have to know the rules you’re breaking.

    As for the publishing industry, I don’t think it’s at all like the financial industry. I think the delivery system is changing, and that content is the name of the game, and those who can adapt and learn to change with it will not only survive, they’ll come out on top as winners.


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