We write to understand.

(Pedagogy) Philosophy and Nonsense      
Thoughts about writing, education, and experience                                  Presented by Forrest D. Poston

The first goal of teaching is to strengthen, deepen and refine our intrinsic love of learning. All other goals and all methods must stem from that idea. Any that do not support that goal must at least be questioned and adjusted, if not eliminated. Otherwise, we are not teaching but training.

We write to be understood.

Writing and Education

Autobiography Challenge

Considering Conclusions

Considering Introductions

Four Meanings of Life

Godot and the Great Pumpkin

A Major is More Minor Than
You Think

The Poetry Process (A look at 4 versions of a poem.)

Thoughts About Picking a Major

Quick Points About Education

Quick Points About Writing

Reading Poetry and Cloud Watching

Revising Revision

Reviving Experience

Reviving Symbolism

Using an Audience


What Makes a Story True?

What's the Subject of This Class? (Being revised.)

Why Write?

Writing and Einstein (The Difference Between Information and Meaning)

Writing and the Goldilocks Dilemma

Links to Other Sites
Writing Tricks:  Using an Audience         by Forrest D. Poston

The first audience is the writer.  Even when revising for an additional audience, the writer is an important factor because you should always be engaged with the writing, clarifying and deepening the meanings for yourself as you improve them for another reader.  But at times, thinking of yourself as the audience can create roadblocks or inhibit new thoughts, and the only audience students are really familiar with is the teacher, which may well be the worst possible audience.  The only audience that may be more harmful to the process is no audience or an undefined, very general audience.  A large, foggy sense of audience helps produce weak, foggy writing with broad statements and no substance.

     Sometimes you'll need a real audience to work with, someone to read the essay, or someone to listen while you read the essay out loud.  Writing doesn't always fit the isolated, hidden in the tower image.  However, there are even more times when you need a fairly specific but imaginary audience to write for.  How specific will vary both from writer to writer and from time to time.  You'll need to practice to learn when to use which audience.  As with most aspects of writing, if you pick the wrong audience at the wrong time, all you have to do is pick another one and go back to playing with ideas.  All roads yield experience, and even the time with the "wrong" audience will help make better choices somewhere along the way.

     A good piece of writing should affect an audience beyond the teacher or your close friends, but don't think too much about the bigger audience, the ones around the edge. Think, instead, of the target and the bullseye.  As you write with an audience in mind more often, you'll get better at focusing both the audience and the writing more quickly, but start by eliminating the fringe, defining the difference between the target and the non-audience.  In many respects that first step is primarily to push aside the teacher-as-audience.  Sure, they'll still read the paper and give you the grade, but thinking about that as if it were the goal will get in the way of the thinking and the writing, resulting in a weaker paper and lower grade anyway.

     Once you have an idea or a draft that needs refinement, make some basic choices about your target audience, keeping in mind that the easiest audience to write for is people like you because you have a better chance of understanding them.  So members of your target audience are probably students close to your age and grade level.  That will define the enough for the time being.  Your subject, style, references, and vocabulary should match your audience, even if that means explaining some of the words to your teacher.  One of my students had to work her way back through two or three levels of slang before I understood some of her word choice, but once she got through to me, it was clearly the best choice.

     Thinking of audience like an archery target, the closer you get to the bullseye, the more your audience should react as you hope.  At the outer circles, the majority of the audience should find the writing clear and interesting, but there will probably be only a small number who are actually influenced by the writing. As you move toward the center, the level of interest, agreement, and influence should increase.  Most of the bullseye audience should reach the Wow level.

     Beyond the target, some people will care, some won't, some agree, some disagree.  Most are unlikely to finish the essay. Oh well.  Attempting to bring in too many people will risk losing some of the target audience, so for the sake of your writing, your audience, and your sanity, let the people outside your focus go on their way.  You'll have more than enough to worry about when you discover that your target audience isn't reacting as you intended, and you have to figure out what to revise.

     To refine the draft, refine your sense of the bullseye audience.  Close the age gap if you can.  Are they the same age as you, a grade or two back about to go through what you've just experienced, a year ahead and already needing reminded what it was like to be a freshman?  Does it make a difference if your reader is male or female?  A topic such as dating, or the difference between love and friendship, could be successfully directed at one side or the other or both.  Decide, and ask yourself as many questions about your audience as you can think of.

  Your bullseye audience will probably bring to mind a few faces of people you know, giving your audience some substance.  For additional revision (or from the very first draft if it works for you), look to those familiar, real faces.  Of the people you know, there's probably one who represents your bullseye audience especially well, someone who would find the subject interesting and valuable.  Who would you trust enough to speak with openly and honestly, to dare go into the deeper ideas that usually only come out after midnight?

    Picture that person as you write, thinking of them by name, maybe even write their name at the top of the page, or write a draft as a letter if it helps.  Talk with the person as you write.  "Hey, Ralph, do you get the point here, or are you wondering 'so what'?"  If asking the question in your head isn't enough, ask it out loud.  Your roommate may worry about your sanity, but once they see the results in your writing, they'll start talking with real-imaginary friends, too.

     Writing for that audience of one should help bring out more precise details and give the writing extra personality and depth.  On the other hand, it may also bring out inside jokes and a level of familiarity that doesn't work with the subject or for the rest of the audience.  Learn to play one audience off another to find your balance.  After you talk with Ralph, ask "Hey, stranger, do you get my point?"  And it always comes back to you.  Does the writing really say what you want it to say, or are you pulling punches somewhere.  Of all the audiences, you're the one who should be most affected at some level because the primary drive behind most writing isn't to be understood; it's to understand.

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Other Essays and Poetry

Something Somewhat Vaguely Like a Resume

The Cat With a Bucket List

Being Like Children

The Blessing and the Blues

Booking Down Brown Street

David and the Revelation

The Dawn, the Dark, and the Horse I Didn't Ride In On (an odd, meandering, semi-romantic story)

Ghost Dancer in the Twilight Zone

The Hair Connection and the Nature of Choices

I Believe in Capra

The Mug, the Magic, and the Mistake

Sadie on the Bridge

Trumpet Player, USDA Approved



Selected Poems

The Poetry Process

Writing by Current or Former Students

Ms. Write Meets Her Match in Jr. Ms. Write Now
by Heide Perry

I'll Just Have Cats
by Cara Hummel

Toys to Toys
by Allyson Bowlds

Scribbles and Bits

Links to Other Sites