Essential Writing Skills: taking your audience with you

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Professionalism counts when it comes to writing. Which includes valuing your audience – however small.

My Adler Gabrielle 25 - on which I typed maybe a million words in the 1980s.
My Adler Gabrielle 25 – on which I typed maybe a million words in the 1980s.

A little anecdote. Back in the late ’90s, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I went to a show by a local singer-songwriter-actress in a small venue – a public bar. Even then it wasn’t crowded. Maybe a dozen people? The performer emerged and began the show. Let’s say it was a personalised experience.

About half way through, a group suddenly piled in, tripling the audience. What did the entertainer do? She stopped the show, re-introduced herself to the newcomers – and started the show again. For them.

In that one step she lost all my respect for her professionalism.  The old audience didn’t count. Did they?

We left.

A few years later, I was part of a panel discussing writing in the National Library auditorium in New Zealand – a venue that might seat 500. The event hadn’t been well promoted and the panel just about outnumbered the audience. One of the other panellists called everybody down to the front. ‘We should all go to the pub,’ he said ‘discuss things round a table.’ He was only being slightly hyperbolic.

Actually we carried on at that venue. And everybody had a good time.

It’s true of writers, too. We have to value the audience, no matter how large or small. And one of the joys of writing – for me at least – is exploring new territories and, maybe, drawing a new audience in the process. But that doesn’t mean abandoning the old audience half way – it means finding ways of respecting their interest, earning their respect in turn.

If you do that, they’ll likely follow you into your new direction – even as you draw in a new audience.

It’s professional. Which, as we know, is one of the keys to success in writing – as it is in any field.

More soon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More writing tips, humour, and more. Watch this space.

15 thoughts on “Essential Writing Skills: taking your audience with you

    1. The performer in question has since disappeared into obscurity; back then she was prominent in a fair amount of TV, releasing albums and so forth. To me the show restart was ego – pretentious and inappropriate by professional standards. But I guess it takes all sorts.


  1. It seems reasonable to welcome late guests, but it should still be warm for current guests.
    I ran a small competition/promo on my blog, and only got one entry – which made selecting the winner easy. I had a split second thought of cancelling the promo, but decided I would respect the one person who showed up and complete the promise I had made.


    1. Absolutely the right decision! The professional way. I think the attitude and mind-set of professionalism flows through – often subtly – into the way audiences perceive the writer, artist or whatever. It’s all good.


  2. It really is about good manners, isn’t it, whether one is singing, writing, or speaking. I would have walked out with you and your wife.

    There is a way to get an audience “caught up,” although the latecomers will have missed the freshness of the beginning. I suppose in writing it is reading a piece quickly to get the gist of it–who, what, why, and when–in singing, could one not do a bit of a medley if the latecomers seem to be responding genuinely? In my former life as an administrator, I had to address quite a few audiences, many of which had “issues” to express. It was my job to get everyone on the same page, including those who came in late or for one reason or another did not have all the information. I was not always successful in getting people to understand but I hope I exhibited respect for those who sat through it all. Really interesting post, Matthew.


    1. You’re right – it’s entirely to do with good manners. And to me, that’s part not just of a professional ‘image’, but of a ‘professional character’. It should, one hopes, be second nature to all of us. Often it isn’t, and I must admit I’ve seen this both in the arts and in writing where a ‘preciousness’ often seems to overtake all else. Of course we have to accept people and understand them for what they are; and when we encounter such folk the experience forms part of the wider tapestry of life. But I still find it mildly irksome, because to me it is a sign that they put themselves and their ego first, which to me suggests that their experience of performing (or writing) will not be as deep or rewarding as it could be if they developed more empathy for the audience. Their problem; but I lament the loss, for their sake.


  3. I feel guilty about just going on. Isn’t it human nature to want to bring them up to speed? And I forget how rude they were for being late…and how rude I am being to the ones who were there on time. I guess it’s a no-win for the audience and the artist, right? Silent


    1. Bringing the newcomers up to speed is one thing. Ditching the old audience, turning away from them (literally) and performing only for the new crowd is another – and it’s rude. This was a public bar and the performer has to accept that people will come and go, and offer the most professional performance they can irrespective.

      I recall a few years back I gave a public history lecture at the national museum. The audience came and went. People arrived and left. Several tried to disrupt me as they passed through. I carried on anyway.


      1. Sorry Matthew, I was not there and was not trying to tell you how it should have been. I was just thinking how, for myself, I feel trapped in those situations. I guess everyone is. Silent


    1. I agree. It wastes everyone’s time when that happens. I remember one committee I was on, many years ago, in which the chair simply started the meeting on the dot, irrespective…and didn’t make allowances for late-comers. It (sort of) worked…


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