love your audience

Last year, after my mom’s memorial service in southern Arkansas, a couple of my creative cousins made greeting cards of our group photo and we each randomly picked a card in an envelope pre-addressed to someone else in the family. Cousin B got the card with my address.

A week or so after arriving back on the island in British Columbia where we live (a long, long way from the Deep South homeland of many generations of my ancestors), in the midst of finding my way into a life without Mom, B’s letter arrived. It’s one of the most beautiful letters I’ve ever read in my life.

He wrote the letter in the middle of the night, during an intense thunderstorm, with the power out and a flashlight tucked between his chin and his shoulder. Periodically, he’d go out and check on the dove he’d seen sitting on the roof of his truck when he went to get the flashlight. The dove stayed there through the long, stormy night, through the downpour that soaked B’s yard, through thunder so strong it shook the dishes in the cabinets, through winds that tore big branches from his pecan trees.

“Losing the physical relationship of a parent is a very tough storm to face,” he wrote. As I read (and reread) his words of wisdom, encouragement, appreciation, and love, they calmed and healed a part of me that had floundered. “I guess God knows I could never grasp many things unless he put them into the most basic and simplest form,” he wrote. “But even I can understand a storm and a dove.”

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The bond created between writer and reader arises out of love. Whether we write to persuade or inform or entertain, whether we know the reader personally or not, the connection that opens a reader like a deconstructing origami crane comes from loving them.

It doesn’t matter if you write for a one-person audience, like my cousin B did, or a worldwide bestselling span of millions – people read what you write one by one. Though your readers make up a group, we don’t read as a group. We read alone, even if we’re being read to. We take the words into our minds and hearts and relate to them personally.

We can tell when a writer loves us. It makes a difference. It’s the difference.

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When my Aunt L was grappling with cancer, Mom organized a road trip to take her and another sister to some of Mom’s favourite places out west, while she still had the chance. All during their trip, Aunt L, Aunt G, and Mom kept journals. They wrote for themselves and for each other and for whoever might care to read their journals in the future.

Years later, after Aunt L had died, Mom and I worked together to make their journals into a book for our family. I used my skills to edit and format, and Mom used her bookmaker’s skills to create the book itself. It’s gorgeous, with maps for endpapers, a photo-collage cover, and different fonts for the three sisters’ voices. It’s full of stories about being on the road together, goofy poems, and reflections about life and loss and love. It’s funny and real and poignant all at once.

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That book, that limited edition, has had a slightly larger audience than cousin B’s letter to me. This article has a larger audience than that. And the novel you read as you eat your lunch today has an even larger audience. But the size of the audience is insignificant. The realness of the audience is paramount.

The people who read what you write – no matter who or where they are – have weathered storms. They breathe and hope and yearn. And they can feel your love.

Even if they’re nameless and faceless to you, even if they’re a cog in a wheel you’re writing to protest against – love your audience.

Person by person. Letter by letter. Word by word.

2 comments to love your audience

  • Melissa Frykman-Thieme

    Hi Grace,
    Thank you for “Love Your Audience”. You remind of my writing experience of just this morning. I have been invited to participate in a three person blog whose purpose is to stoke our creativity. I wrote a longish prose/poetry piece that I had to edit somewhat, then make permanent. It was difficult to figure out how to make sure that my work wasn’t lost, but finally I gave in and let go and, voila! it was posted.
    When I reread the piece, that for once was for someone else vs just me, I realized that just the knowing that I had an audience changed the way I write. There were far fewer “I, me me, mines” in the text, and a more global and outwardly inclusive feel about what I had to say. My writing didn’t have the arrogance that one person clapping for themeselves can have. Then I read your “Love Your Audience” piece. It all folds in nicely, like the proverbial eggwhites into the batter.
    It turns out that bringing love into creativity and expression is not just a style thing- it’s a life thing, it’s a way of being.
    Thank you for pointing that out.
    LOVE,
    Melissa

  • Thank you for that post it is as always beautifully stated and so important. I’ll keep your words in mind as I respond to emails as well.

    Love does make a difference in the words we choose – just like a smile when we speak.