Choosing an Ideal Reader


So often when we sit down to write, we bring with us a chorus of nay-sayers.    All those people we’ve encountered throughout our lifetime who have been unkind to us or critical of what we’ve said or done.   The chorus might consist of one of our parents, a teacher or two, turncoat friends from junior high.  And as we touch pen point to paper, or our fingertips to keyboard, the chorus sings out:  “You can’t write.  Nobody wants to read that drivel.  You don’t know how to spell.  That’s boring.  You don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Sound familiar?

Actually, I should correct myself.  We don’t necessarily “bring” this chorus with us.  For many writers, the chorus barges into the writing space, squeezing through the door and surrounding the desk or chair or bed where the writer, her hopes high, plans to write.  They’ve been waiting for just this opportunity, waiting patiently, ignoring their own lives so as not to miss the moment when they can begin their caterwauling.

Certainly it didn’t occur to me to invite my fourth-grade teacher into my writing space.  But once I set out to become acquainted with my chorus of naysayers, there stood Mrs. Lauck, front and center, arms still crossed, her lips still set in the familiar straight line, eyes glowering. I quickly “disinvited” her from my writing process by suggesting she return to doing what she did best: teaching fourth graders.

The disinvitation worked, up to a point.  What I didn’t know yet was that it wasn’t enough to rid my writing world of threat to make it completely safe.  Once I eliminated the critics, I needed to invite an ideal reader into my writing world—someone I respected, someone who cared for me and respected me deeply, and would watch over me as I wrote.

For so many of us, thinking about future readers sends a wave of anxiety shooting through us.  Of course!  We inevitably imagine hostile readers, readers on the attack, just waiting for us to trip and fall.  Who in her right mind would want to write anticipating this reception?

An ideal reader can be anyone you’ve known, from any time or place in your life—a loving aunt, a close friend, a workshop leader.  Or, if you aren’t fortunate enough to have encountered such a person, create her in your imagination.  Take the best qualities of several people you know and gather them into this character.  Give her a name.  Begin talking to her.  “I think you’d make an excellent reader for my writing.  Would you mind standing by me when I write?”

This ideal reader will gradually replace the hostile critics waiting to pounce.  It is she you will bring into your writing space with you, she you will anticipate reading the words you put on the page, her presence that will infuse your writing space with light.

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