Writing and your imagined audience

Do you imagine an audience when you write? I’ve become aware recently of how rarely I do this. The main reason for this has been the jarring experience of finding myself overly conscious about the particular audience I happen to be writing for in recent projects. I wrote a chapter on asexuality for a handbook on sexuality and was suddenly aware of the fact it would presumably be trainee councillors, sex therapists and psychology students reading the chapter. The uniform chapter headings that were built into the design of the book produced all sorts of angst about how I was writing i.e. if I’m writing under the heading ‘implications for applied practitioners’ (or a phrase to that effect) then I can’t help but  wonder who are these practitioners and what will they think of how I’m writing? More recently, with Social Media for Academics, I’ve found myself very conscious of what will presumably be a diverse audience and worrying about the ways in which disciplinary specific norms and styles might be creeping into my writing in a way deleterious to the readability of the book.

I’ve found these experiences strange because I’m rarely aware of an audience the rest of the time when writing. Obviously I realise reflectively that people read things that I’ve made public. But this awareness rarely enters into the process of writing itself. It makes me second guess, immediately read back over what I’ve written and agonise over word choice and sentence structure. It seems to preclude the sort of ‘flow’ that my orientation towards writing generally leaves me seeking out. It reintroduces my internal conversation into the writing process and I write much more slowly and enjoy it much less. This left me thinking about how you make sense of this imagined audience, as internal conversation – it makes me think of pragmatism, with this ‘other’ entering into my inner experience while I write, offering a judgemental gaze in virtue of which I find myself assessing what I have written rather than losing myself in the process of writing. But my sense of this other is partial at best and entirely imagined at worst. I don’t really know these audiences and that’s why they’re entering into my writing process in such a censorious way. But then again do I know my ‘usual’ audience, the familiar group to which I’m implicitly contrasting these unfamiliar others? I really don’t and I find it oddly unnerving to pursue this line of thought. Perhaps if I pursue it too far, I’ll find a real generalised other, in Mead’s sense of the term, entering into my experience of writing and forevermore be prone to self-censoring in the face of its stern yet ephemeral gaze.

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