Writing advice is so often contradictory. Take, for example, the advice to write only for yourself or in service of your vision. But just as often you’ll hear: write with an intended readership in mind.
Neither piece of advice is wrong; they’re just prioritizing different things. Writers who consider themselves “serious” (or literary) tend to emphasize genius and artistry, which can result in challenging or difficult work. Writers who make a living wage from their work tend to emphasize service to the reader.
Of course, there’s usually a middle way; it’s not an either-or proposition every time. I like Stanley Delgado’s essay in the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, There Was a Man in El Salvador Who Owned Four Dogs, where he discusses his grandmother’s method of storytelling. He noticed that she told the same stories differently to him than to his mother—different elements, different drama. He writes:
The man in El Salvador who owned four dogs … and what happens next was based on her audience. And I think it helps to do that, to consider an audience. My grandma’s is an extreme example, but it helps to remember that a story exists to connect one person to another, for however briefly. My mother wanted high drama, I wanted spookiness. Considering an audience—a reader, in my case—doesn’t mean that they are going to be coddled, either, not like in my grandma’s example; considering a reader, to me, simply means realizing the power and weight and authority of words.
Also in this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin:
- Patience by Polly Rosenwaike
- Deepening Characters by Lee Martin
- What Else Can I Tell You? by Ed Allen
- This Knotted Labyrinth of Self by Douglas W. Milliken
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses (How to Publish Your Book), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.