Being Followed

in Athens
in Athens

“Why’s he following us?” I asked.

My boyfriend and I were often followed by dogs. In one Bulgarian village on The Black Sea, a scraggly dog followed us all day. It waited two hours outside a restaurant for us, and he sat on the sidewalk and watched our bus leave at the end of the night.

In Athens, we finally had to leave that big, gold dog, but on our way to dinner we picked up another. I suspect one reason I married that boyfriend was because of those dogs. He never waved them off or got annoyed.

I’ve read that you need to know your audience. When you start writing should you have this audience figured out or should you wait until you’ve got the story done? Shelly said that sometimes his audience is just himself. Now Shelly as your audience is a good thing, but I don’t know that I’m my own best audience. I scare myself too much.

Have you ever put your work out in the world and been surprised by who likes it?

(This is not to suggest anyone in my audience is a stray dog–though I quite like stray dogs.)

8 thoughts on “Being Followed

  1. Scaring yourself is a good thing, a sign that your path has a strong foundation. It is splendid to have an audience but I suspect you would write whether you had one or not; I know I would. To answer your question, I’m continuously surprised by who likes what I do.

  2. Successful stories/books have probably been written both ways — some to a (real or imagined) audience kept firmly in the author’s mind, and some just for the author.

    I guess most of have to write for ourselves all the time, and for an audience if and when we can (and want to, of course). In the spectrum of published fiction, from purely literary to purely pulp, there’s sort of a corresponding spectrum of audiences, from author-only to audience-only, and we find our individual “sweet spots” for our own books.

    Part of the problem of writing for an audience, even just a little, is that to KNOW how successful the book is, you’ve got to KNOW how an audience will respond, all along the way — either instinctively or through experience. Impossible — I can’t believe anyone actually sits down and intellectually evaluates every phrase and sentence when writing it (though many come close in the editing/revision).

    So yeah, if enough people read your work and enough people get back to you about the experience, I think pleasant surprises must be common — not the norm, exactly, but not unusual.

    (I vaguely remember something John Updike said, somewhere (duh): that the audience he keeps in mind as he writes is an imaginary woman just a little east of St. Louis. Words along those lines.)

  3. P.S. Took me a few minutes (I gave up searching before hitting the Submit button above), but I found the Updike quote, also one by Eudora Welty and one by John Steinbeck (which I think you’ll especially like, in the context of this post):

    Updike:“When I write I aim in my mind not toward New York but a little east of Kansas.”

    Welty: “I don’t write for my friends or myself. I write for it for the pleasure of it.”

    Steinbeck: “I’ve always tried out material on my dogs first.”

  4. First thing i thought of when I saw your picture was the Scholastic Benji in Athens book I had when I was a kid. What does it say that my knowledge of modern Athens begins and ends with a picture book about a TV dog?

    But aside from that… I don’t know so much as you have to KNOW your audience as you have to RESPECT them. I’m really big on that because I’ve seen the disaster that happens when people try to scam their audience into liking something. People out for stardom, not their craft, or people out for making money, not for making a good story. I see it a lot in movies. Sometimes people study their audiences, trying to get to know them and therefore stuff all the things the data says they like into a book or movie or whatever. Those stories suck. I’ve heard people talk about their audience as if they are someone to be conned, as if they are somehow better than the people they want to read their book or watch their show.

    Now, aside from that. I do think my audience is myself, and I try to write a book I would like to read. Whenever I think about making the audience someone else, I think I get freaked out. Sometimes I can imagine my audience as my younger self. that’s okay.

    I am most often surprised by an audience’s reaction when they find something in the material that I didn’t know I’d done. I like that, because I feel like my subconscious is working and connecting with theirs. Sometimes it also happens when I make a wry comment and people laugh out loud, telling me I’m funny. I never expect that. The world is amusing, but I don’t consider myself that funny.

  5. Shelly, yes, I will keep writing. It hurts to think of giving it up.

    fairyhedgehog, yes, stray hedgehogs counts–especially if they read to cats.

    JES, ultimately I think we write for ourselves. And what a strange day for you to quote Updike, but your quotes prove that my heart belongs to Steinbeck instead.

    shelli, on one level I’m surprised anyone likes my work. On a more sensible level, I have been surprised by specific people. I hear myself say, “Really? Are you serious?”

    rowena, what does that say about Athens? You are right on about respect. I hope I manage that.

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