As part of our profile series on the Riggio: Writing and Democracy community, 12th Street caught up with alum Kate Cox to ask, “Who’s your audience?” To which she replied with lyrical wit:
Dear Reader: I am not thinking about you.
Dear reader, dear, dear reader. Here’s a confession: I am not thinking about you when I write (somewhere in a publishing house, the marketing team perishes). Sure, I wonder if you’re out there in the ether. I wonder what you might look like, who your friends are, and I sort of hope that you’re lonely and rudderless because that would mean we had something in common and would make reliable drinking buddies. But we don’t need to. And I’d write even if we didn’t. You’d probably still read, too. Right?
Privacy is hard to come by, but it’s the contract we enter into on the page. I don’t need to know anything about you in order to write prose that pleases you. I’d be gratified to know that something I wrote made someone, somewhere tingle. But let’s face it, if I worry too much about whether you do or don’t, I lose my only real currency – freedom of thought. I don’t write for you any more than you read for me. Words are blessedly unselfconscious in that way. And we can trade them on the language exchange without it meaning anything about who we are as people. In The Making of Americans, Getrude Stein wrote, “I am writing for myself and strangers. This is the only way that I can do it. Everybody is a real one to me, everybody is like some one else too to me. No one of them that I know can want to know it and so I write for myself and strangers.” I do not write only for me. I write always in service of the story—I write on its behalf. But I do write in this order: 1.) For the story, 2.) For me; 3.) For you, stranger. It’s the only way this arrangement can work.
Back to freedom for a moment. Language is the real last frontier. We can roam around in it, staking claims. And we can do that because the relationship between reader and writer is governed only by the story’s need for both of us to will it into existence. Why compromise that with talk of demographics (ahem, marketing team)?
Listen, I’m so glad you’re out there. And if you’re reading, I’m glad for that, too. Now, let’s forget who’s who and flip the lights off. These conversations are always better in the dark.
Kate Cox is a writer, traveler, and experience junkie. She writes about the curious world on her blog and chronicles her relationship with wanderlust and limited funds for Off the Radar. Follow her @thekatecox and @otravel.