Any writer worth his or her salt is aware of audience. You can write in your journal or on your shiny new MacBookPro but until you share what you’re writing with someone else, you haven’t completed the cycle and you’re not really writing. You need to share it. Even if it’s only an audience of one, like your husband or wife or creative writing instructor – until you’re prepared to share it, you’re not really a writer.
I was thinking of the nature of my own audience when I was looking through the origin of hits on this blog of mine this weekend. Now that I have learned how to figure this out on WordPress, I realize I have been miscalculating just who exactly has been reading these words. I assumed it would be people from Calgary, perhaps those who used to read my column in the Calgary Herald, or have seen my plays downtown, or my students, or my many Facebook friends.
Generally, that’s probably the case. And yet reviewing the origins of my hits today, I see I have had six hits so far: three from Turkey, one from Portugal (my daughter, Hanna) one from Canada and one from Taiwan. So clearly, I know nothing about my audience, about who is reading this, or why, and I am once again made to realize just how different the world is now from when I started out in my writing career.
My first encounter with an audience was with a small brave collection of souls who showed up at the old Norman MacKenzie Art Gallery at my Alma Mater, the University of Regina, to hear me read some of my poems on a cold and snowy night over 30 years ago. I don’t remember the circumstances of why I was even asked, I certainly hadn’t published anything, but there I was in with my mullet and my skinny tie reading some poems that have since been lost to the ages.
Terrifying, is all I remember about it. But at least I could see who was there. (And who wasn’t.)
(Making it all the worse, the old Norman MacKenzie Gallery was tucked in beside the Conservatory of Music at the U of R. I had just defected from the music faculty to become an English major. Of course, no one cared. But I hardly knew it that night!)
Around this time, a short story of mine was produced by the CBC and broadcast nationally. I remember being in Toronto and out for supper with some friends (the Campbell clan). We gathered around the radio and listened to my story being broadcast across the country. Who knows who even heard it? Maybe everybody! Maybe nobody. But I was certainly filled with a great sense of my own self-importance that night like I’ve probably never felt since. That night on the subway home, I felt like Pierre Burton or something. It’s hard to impress on readers of this blog at this point in time the importance of the CBC in the development of a writer’s career. The CBC! The production values! Sea to sea to sea! And the money was nothing to sneeze at, either!
That night on my way home, with the sonorous tones of the PROFESSIONAL ACTOR who had read my little story reverberating in my young brain, I clearly thought I was destined to greatness.
Suddenly the entire country was my audience. What could possibly stop me??
There followed a career in the theatre (which as far as I know is still ongoing). The blessing and the curse of the playwright is that you have no choice but to be very aware of your audience. You’re sitting right there with them as they experience your work of art. (Or in my case, pacing up and down at the back of the theatre, sweating it out.) You know if you’ve succeeded, that’s for sure. But even more acutely, you know if you’ve failed.
Public humiliation is never pleasant, and there’s no worse a feeling than to be sitting in the theatre when your play is going down like the Titanic despite the brave efforts of your cast.
Writing for a newspaper is interesting. My column in the Herald came out in the Saturday paper. I remember one of the early weeks, I found myself in a coffee shop watching a gentleman as he read the paper while drinking his morning coffee. I watched and waited. Finally he got to the Entertainment section. My heart raced. He got to the page my column appeared on, frowned, maybe even grimaced, then put the section aside and moved on to Sports. So much for that!
But I guess a few people read it over the years. Recently, I was stopped in the Co-op store by a little old lady who told me how much she loves the column and how she reads it every week. Well, I haven’t written in the Herald for a few years now, so I asked her if she was still reading it and she said, “Yes, every week. Wouldn’t miss it.” You can’t very well call a little old lady a dirty stinking liar so I didn’t press the issue. But you can see it makes it hard to know with any certainty just who is reading what.
And now this. This internet thing. I just checked my hits again and I have a new one, this one from Mexico. What gives with that? Am I on the verge of becoming an international sensation? Or are there simply people everywhere and anywhere who magically or accidentally hit the right buttons so that my blog suddenly appears on their computer screen? Don’t they have anything better to do? For that matter, don’t I? Maybe not . . . .
I really don’t know. I have to admit that I really don’t know who my audience is. If I ever did. So what can I say, but – whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your reasons for reading this – thanks for reading?! As long as someone is reading it, I’ll keep writing it.
See you again soon.