Writing for an Audience

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Photo Credit: Auditorium by Ayla87

I started blogging because I needed an audience. After journaling for no one but myself for fourteen years, I needed to start thinking about writing for others, especially since I wanted to write and publish my memoir. I realized I had been self-centered, or writer-based, all those years. What’s more, I realized my previous education (even though I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English), had not helped me with the transition to writing for meaningful audiences. But now that I was serious about publishing a book, I had to become more reader-based.

If you’ve done any research on the publishing market, you know that being reader-based is essential to (traditional) publishing. If you’ve done that same research and you had an English education like mine, you might have concluded that many English teachers must not be writers—in the sense of trying to publish their writing.

Most of my English teachers gave me dead assignments, or what my thesis advisor called “orphaned texts” to write: papers that were not meant to go anywhere beyond their desk. My advisor also termed these assignments “autonomous texts”—texts that had no communicative element, no audience, and no purpose. This was in opposition to a superior type of writing situation: the rhetorical situation.

Last week I introduced my composition students to the rhetorical triangle—a way of thinking about writing that places a text in context of a specific speaker, audience, and topic. The major lesson is that if any element of the triangle changes, the text must also change.

Learning to think of writing this way—as a communicative act—has been changing my own writing dramatically. And it has tested me. First, on this blog, I have been forced to confront the self-pitying nature of so much of my past writing—and with that, the uselessness and counter-productivity of said writing. Considering my writing through the lens of a prospective audience has forced me to look in a mirror, as it were, and has helped me clear away the dross of my thoughts for current and future projects. The benefits of blogging have included even more healing for myself while looking in that “mirror,” and a push toward meeting my real goal of book publication.

Incidentally, I’ve just received my editor comments back on my memoir manuscript, which are further propelling me to write for an audience. I’m glad I had the training of eight months of blogging to prepare me to think about meeting the needs of book readers.

Trish Ryan’s assessment was great, pushing me to make some difficult changes I sensed I might need to make, but that I wasn’t emotionally ready to make earlier. I hope I am ready now. Time will tell as I enter the revision stage. Providentially, Trish told me I sent her the manuscript at just the right time to get feedback and intervention. I was glad to read that. I knew I wasn’t done with this project at first draft’s end, but I was at a point where I needed an experienced reader and writer to coach me to stretch limits for my intended audience.

Some of her best advice relating to audience was to lay out my story chronologically. Touché, as I had tried to bury or bypass some hard emotional scenes. I needed her to tell me that the audience needs more facts of my background to understand all the feelings I divulge throughout. She also urged me to err on the side of action versus reflection to keep things moving for readers. She said setting up a more complete background to my story in the beginning would help diminish the need for so much reflection later—readers would better understand my actions with the appropriate lead-up.

With her feedback, I am better equipped to revise my book for my audience, which will mean cutting out some material that was personally revelatory but not globally relevant. Though this may be hard, having  had an audience of one see and validate those parts of my story has heartened me to the task of cutting them from the final draft. (The tougher job now will be revisiting and writing those difficult parts of my past that need to be in the book).

So the final takeaway for this post? We writers, if we want to be published, and even if we just need to heal, need various audiences to push us to self-reflect on what we’re really accomplishing with our writing—and push us to take sometimes difficult steps. In the end, I believe writing for an audience is making me both a better person and a better writer, and it can do the same for you.

Professing—My Unexpected Blessing

With my manuscript deadline at hand, I knew this week would be busy. Before I got the job offer last Thursday, I didn’t know how busy. Suddenly, in addition to finishing my book manuscript in one week, I am becoming an adjunct professor, too!

I got the call last Thursday (six days before my first class—yikes!), and five days later, I am still in awe at God’s goodness. This past year has been all about me learning that when I humble myself in the sight of the Lord, He lifts me up (James 4:10). Repeatedly broken to knee-point this past year, I have found peace in the surrender to Jesus and His plans for me. I gave up certain plans I thought would not pan out (such as a PhD and professing at my alma mater) to follow new directions in which I felt called: authorship and parenthood. (By the way, we are supposedly finding out the baby’s sex this week, too!)

It was when I surrendered the professing idea that we got pregnant and the book really started taking shape. I thought: “This is okay; God’s really got this.” I haven’t been making any serious money for two years, but I’ve been faithfully sowing seeds in hopes that they will grow into a money tree (er, some kind of career), however small.

By sowing seeds I mean writing my memoir, which goes out to a professional author/editor this week for a consultation. The book is not in its final form, by any means, but at 256 pages, it is a complete draft that says, more or less, what I want it to say. There’s a part of me that wants to keep polishing it, but mostly, especially after faced with having to prepare a semester’s syllabus in a couple days, I think it wise to give the book (and my brain) a break while other eyes ponder it. It will be good to focus on something else for awhile and then come back refreshed to revise in a month or so.

The one-class professing gig on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (which happens to be right down the road) will be the perfect vehicle for me to do just that.

And I was just starting to miss the classroom a bit.

Today I can only shake my head and marvel at the wisdom of God’s plans and His timing. Maybe this turn of events doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but for me, it is. I used to have such issues with needing to be in control of my future. I didn’t handle unknowns well. I got physically sick from anxiety. But since learning to let go (and please know that sometimes I still need remediation), life has become a joy, full of surprises and good gifts from the hand of God. Now, instead of being just a professor, or just a writer, or just a parent, I am suddenly all three! Daily I am reminded that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).

If you’re struggling today over the plans for your future, or if you feel physically or emotionally sick from not knowing what’s to come, why not ask God to take the reigns and pave the path for you? He might not make things clear right away, but if you earnestly pray, you can rest in the knowledge that even when we don’t know what to pray for, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:26, 28). Finally, when we put God first, we can rest in the promises that “there is no want to those who fear the Lord” (Ps. 34:9), and God shall supply “all” our needs “according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Amen!

For some inspiration today, check out the song “When I Let It Go” by Sierra. This is a throwback to one of my dad’s favorite Christian groups from the 90s, and lately it has brought me to tears (in a good way!).

This time I’ve got to trust You
I’ve got to accept Your plan
I have tried to guide my circumstance
But there’s just no way I can
When will I learn this lesson
Your ways are not like mine
Lord, help me to surrender
The control I try to have on my life
When I let it go
You take my hand and gently lead me
Then You let me know
Just how peaceful my life can be
When I let it go
Your never-ending blessings
Like a river start to flow
When I let it go
Too many times I’m searching
For the things I think I need
When I try to look for more
I always seem to give You less of me
Lord, help me gain this wisdom
My foolish mind still lacks
‘Til I find a way to let go
Of the part of me I’m holding back

Reclaiming My Voice

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Photo Credit: Nordic Photos/Super Stock

There’s an important thing in writing called “voice.” Different composition scholars define it in different ways, but basically “voice” refers to the unique qualities of the writer’s writing. What distinguishes his or her writing from everyone else’s?

More often than I wish were the case, college English classes discount voice, sacrificing it to academic conventions, or established norms and guidelines, to maintain the “language of scholarship.”

In my master’s thesis, I argued that I lost interest in my English classes, in part, because my voice was not allowed there. I still got A’s, though, because it was easy for me to imitate what teachers wanted—it was easy to “pose” as someone I was not on paper.

While this practice earned me a 4.0 in my major, sadly, it took me away from defining my own role as a writer, and developing my own voice.

As well, maybe I didn’t feel my voice was welcome, either in the classroom or anywhere else. Looking back, writing in non-academic settings should have been a given…but no…I resisted airing my voice in a professional, outward way—squelched it under the covers of my journals. Where else could it go?

My “voice” as I conceived of it at age twenty-one was that of a depressed, deflated victim—a mental basket case. I felt bad enough about myself already. So why should I let the truth out and ruin the cover I was trying to keep?

How to Hide Your Voice

When you want to hide your voice, and if you have some of your wits about you, it’s easy enough to blend in. Perhaps imitating others—whether in academic writing or behavior—isn’t the natural impulse, but when you want to lie low, it’s easy enough to blend. At least, it’s easy enough to “cap” your real voice.

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On our belated honeymoon trip to San Antonio in 2006.

Maybe I’ve never really “blended” as well as I’d like to think I have. But what I have done is to keep quiet. And by some miraculous twist, I’ve been able to project the image of calm and collected.

Many people have told me, and not just in recent years when I’ve actually achieved some inner peace, that they’re impressed by my outward calm. I’ve been called phlegmatic, composed, serene, and someone who never seems ruffled.

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Sailing in Saint Thomas, 2009.

Well. Ahem. Pat myself on the back. What a “good” job I’ve done at concealing my real self.

Apparently I used to think this was something to be proud of, suppressing my voice.

No more. I’ve grown tired of it.

Letting It Out

I used to stifle my voice because I thought it was warped and would get me labeled. What I didn’t realize was that it was okay to have that voice. It wasn’t okay to keep it forever, of course, because indeed it was warped—a warped outgrowth of my God-given identity.

Now I know my voice just needed redirecting. The form could remain, but the content had to change.

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My husband and me posing for a Christmas picture during the first year of our marriage, 2005.

Sometimes I tell my husband I’ve been trying to figure out who I really am since we married eight years ago. I tell him it’s like my personality was gutted after I went through my deep depression and initial college crash. He tells me I’ve always been the same person—I’ve always had my identity. I guess I have. But it just got buried for awhile in shame and self-doubt.

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My husband and me in a less posed setting in 2005. I think I look somewhat depressed here, or maybe I just need makeup.

No more. Starting with this blog, I’m reclaiming my true voice. And it’s not the voice of the popular majority. It’s not that of a detached literary critic. It’s not a silent observer. It’s not an insecure, defeated little girl.

My voice is thoughtful, emotional, yet hopeful. It is often unpopular. But I’m okay with that. It is mine, given by God, and I intend to use it.

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I’m not sure what to say about this picture. It was taken by my husband when no one else was looking.