However, recently I had registered to take an actual writing course. Not just any writing either, but memoir writing. Wow! Not only do I have to write for an immediate audience who is going to read and critique the fruits of all my creative efforts, but now I also must reveal my significant memories that Rousseau would say, quite literally, is the essence and material of my identify?! Ahh!
Writing was no longer something done privately in leisure, like those sappy poems that every writer admittedly has composed, hoping it is genius but two weeks later rereads and realizes it is inscrutable. In this new environment I was expected to produce at least halfway-decent writing with the knowledge that someone was assuredly going to be reading it, whether it was the former high school football captain or the girl who did wear her beret around campus and smugly read my prose with disgust.
In the panic following the thought of submitting writing for public eyes to see, I realized that I must first bear my soul in these creative efforts to someone who I trusted to give me critical feedback. These critics came in the form of two close friends, who not only gave me guidance on my typos and grammar errors, but showed me the significance of my writing efforts.
My first essay for the memoir-writing class detailed a childhood friendship of mine that I eventually lost and had to understand, as it became a small part of who I am and continue to be, despite the fact that we never reconnected. I was nervous about this piece simply because the assignment was intended to be a “spiritual autobiography” and I chose to write about an old friendship—my main concern was that an outside audience would think it was rather boring. The story was far from a near-death experience or complex adventure in a foreign land, it was pretty simple and awfully honest.
I decided to show this story to my roommate for some revisions and grammar checking. But mostly grammar checking—you must understand the kind of character my roommate was. A tough, sassy, dark Sicilian-Italian woman from a town in southern New Jersey where everyone knew your name and discussed your business at the pizzeria down the street. She never took any crap from anyone and definitely was not the most sentimental person I had ever known. I hesitatingly gave her the story and urged her that she only had to look for typos because I did not think she would be drawn to the sentimental meaning that I was trying to transcribe.
She sat with the story for a long while, reading in complete silence. This silence was odd for a woman who chattered constantly, often with dramatic hand motions. The longer the silence persisted the more I anticipated her disdain for the story, or complete indifference altogether. But when she finished, she exclaimed that she wanted to know more, as if the humble story had ended on a cliffhanger. After pointing out a few typos, she asked if the story was really true, and if it actually happened to me. Suddenly my essay was more than a personal memory—it was a story that someone wanted to hear.
My tough roommate more than understood the story, she thought about it. Something I had written, even so personally, had actually been thought-provoking to someone else, someone who rarely indulged in histrionics or sentimentality, yet still became enchanted by a real memory that was nonetheless story-like.
For another essay, I wrote about coming from a town that experienced a school shooting that was broadcasted across the country, and how understanding the shooting involved coming to understand myself. I decided to show my draft to a close friend at college who I consider a strong, intellectual woman with a fine taste for culture and art.
A couple days after sending her the draft I was sitting in the campus coffee shop, which I frequented almost daily with my roommate, to sit and chat with anyone willing and disposed. My close friend came in from the library and as she approached me, I could see that her face was a redder complexion than usual and her eyes were a little bit swollen. As we said hello she told me she just finished the story and cried, she was so moved. I was shocked and elated; I knew if she had cried that she had been deeply moved. In this busy coffee shop I felt like nothing was occurring except this conversation with my close friend, and I felt I had accomplished perhaps the greatest achievement in any of my writing endeavors—I had moved someone to tears.
If my writing endeavors lead me nowhere except my own satisfaction in creative expression, it will have been enough because I know that writing from my own hands has moved those that I might not have expected to be inspired by writing. For someone so concerned about impressing an audience, I found it much more fulfilling and freeing to consider how my writing might affect and inspire just one person. Writing can be most powerful when written for the individual, without feeling the pressure and need to inspire every single reader.
How do you evaluate your success in writing? How do you view and consider your audience?
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