So, what does that mean, an audience of one? This moves toward the question, Why do poets and writers write? To propose that sometimes you need to write if only for an audience of one is a thought that I have entertained for many, many years. The kernel of the idea began with a statement my writing teacher said in class one afternoon.
It was a small class and the students were instructed to begin a novel. As the semester progressed several students developed their fantasy novels, historic romance stories, dramas of middle-class Americans dealing with the death of a grandparent. But, I confess, I started the class with no idea for a novel. I had nothing. So I reached for something that was familiar — an insider’s life at a private, religious school. Many writers fictionalized biographical material. So I chose that path for my yet-to-be-written novel.
Firsthand experience plus selected vicarious experiences gleaned from the stories of other students populated the first chapters of a novel. I was not more than four chapters into the novel before my writing teacher pulled me aside privately and said she was not comfortable with the direction of the novel.
I do not know if it was directed at me or another student or for the class in general, but one afternoon in class the she said something I will never forget. She stood in front of the old oak desk, partly leaning against it, and said: When a writer goes to write a novel or short story, the writer should write what he or she would want to read. If the writer doesn’t want to read the story, why should I be interested in it? Write your story, even if your eyes are the only one to see the manuscript.
The idea of an audience of one expanded thanks other sources. Think of Emily Dickinson. Many of her poems were never published in her lifetime, never distributed to other people and in most cases stashed in a private cabinet in her bedroom. Why would she write if she is the only audience?
I mention Emily Dickinson’s private collection of poems, but have you ever read Robert Louis Stevenson’s dedication to Treasure Island? In reading it to my children and I noticed it. It reads: “To S.L.O., an American gentleman in accordance with whose classic taste the following narrative has been designed, it is now, in return for numerous delightful hours, and with the kindest wishes, dedicated by his affectionate friend, the author.” Stevenson references one person as if the book was written for that one individual soul, and yet it has attracted the readership of thousands.
If you write for only one person– whether that be your muse, your mentor, your mother–then write. Write for that one soul. Whether it is a collection of poems, a novel, or a memoir, write for that intended audience. Even if it is an audience of one, it may find other readers.