Finding a Real Audience: Who Are You Writing For?

Who cares about your art? Maybe no one. It’s a terrifying concept I’ve been haunted with many times before.

Even when I’m doing completely un-writing things, (yeah I’m making up terms here), I usually think of something that encompasses my craft. My most recent trip down to Broadway, here in Nashville, was just one of those times.

My mom was visiting, and of course, she wanted to go to the famous stops. We entered the downtown strip just as the night began. Music was coming from all directions. It was a little disorienting. 

As we walked around, I realized all these folks creating music just want to get noticed. On the surface, it’s not a bad idea to try here. There are thousands walking through these blocks every night. It’s like when I share on Twitter and Medium and hope people not only see my post, but engage with it.

It was in this thought excavation that I had a realization. Number doesn’t matter if everyone is just walking by. In the writer’s case, scrolling by or reading the first line, then moving on.

There was every kind of audience that night. They apply to every type of art, even though I focus on writing here. I wondered: what kind of audience am I putting my posts in front of?

The Walkers

They may sound epic, but they fall short of being as memorable as White Walkers or Walking Dead, but they play a part here nonetheless.

By walkers, I mean, the people walking up and down the street. It’s the sheer number that your Medium publication provides or the hashtags on social media. The people are there, no doubt, but an overwhelming amount aren’t going to stop. The walkers just keep moving on, they may hear the music coming out from the bars and restaurants, but it is of no consequence to them. 

They may see your post as they scroll, but there’s not even a thought to read the post itself, let alone click on it.

The key is getting the Walkers inside your literary pub.

The Stoppers

These folks are only a hair better than the Walkers.

This is a Walker that got hit in just the right way, if even for a moment. They stand near the entrance to the restaurant, take a look through the window, but meh, they move on. Some even peek their head inside for a second, but that moment is fleeting. That initial thing that got them to stop walking has passed.

They saw your tweet, it sounded halfway interesting, but moved on because something didn’t grab them enough. Some even click, they take a look at the page, read a word, and that’s all. It counts as a page view, we relish those stats, but what have we got? Honestly, nothing more than a Walker.

The Standers

This is it; this is the audience that really makes us feel like there’s someone to write to, sing to, draw for, create for.

They were once Walkers, then they became Stoppers, but instead of fleeing back to the concrete when they peeked their head inside, they came on in. They got their hand stamped, and they’re in it now. They are ready to hear some music. It’s the time to shine, the chance every artist wants. Then the creator brings out what they got. 

The Stander just stands. Nothing else. They may not even listen to the whole song. Then they leave. They heard the creator and decided it wasn’t for them. That’s when the doubt can really set in. The Walkers and Stoppers didn’t know what they were missing, but here someone listened and actively chose to stop. And that was that.

This could be that person that reads through a paragraph, then leaves. They may even count as a read here on Medium, depending on how long they stuck around. But what use is a read if it didn’t really affect them? You want someone who really listens, gives you more than just a paragraph or two worth of their time. You want someone that will want more.

The Sitters

Now we’re talkin’.

This is the person that the musician up there on stage has been dreaming about all night. The Walker stops, comes in, stands, then finds a seat. They aren’t going anywhere, at least not anytime soon. They may even text their friends and tell them where they are. The friends come and sit too. 

Now there are multiple people sitting down, listening to the songs that artist has worked so hard to perfect. They stick around; they must like it! Now they are ordering a beer! The musician knows the establishment took a chance on them, and their art is bringing something in for the bar too. 

This is an audience, a real one, that likes what they hear.

These are the readers that get to the bottom of the article. They push that follow button and come back to the Medium publication you write for to find other articles. Let’s face it, our writing will be a part of a business if we want to make money off of it. The publisher, whether here on Medium, a magazine, or a company making thousands of copies of your book, will want some return on their investment. It’s a business for them too, and you paid them back, which means they will want to see more from you.

This is it, right? This is everything you want from your craft. 

No. This won’t get you more than a few nights of creating, and you certainly can’t make a living off of it.

Those audience members will walk out of your metaphorical bar and back out into their lives. They liked it at that moment, and now it’s gone. Even if they see your name again and remember it, they may stop by again, they may not. They will think “huh, I know them” and little else. Yes, it was an audience, but it still wasn’t lasting.

The Dancers

Sometime that night, wandering through that Tennessee neon, we ended up at a bar called Layla’s. A band was playing some hillbilly, leg stompin’, dance around the campfire music. There were a good amount of sitters, some standers, and people bobbing their head to the beat, some even in rhythm.

We were all part of the audience, but what good were we in the long run? Think about that for a second. We were there, but then what? They all could have been like our group, who just popped in because we thought this might be the best option for the night. If the night ended just like that, it would have been a forgettable experience, even though it was enjoyable in the moment.

Then a woman stood up and walked over in front of the band. There really wasn’t much room. Tables were tightly packed in, and the area in front of the players was pretty much just an aisle. But this woman didn’t mind. She started to sway and then moved her arms and began to dance.

She didn’t care who was watching. She danced song after song, not even paying attention to see if anyone joined her. She moved, and they played.

A Real Engagement 

Why was she doing this? Simple. She was having fun.

Are you writing so that your audience enjoys themselves? Or are you writing to get as my clicks, reads, likes, and shares as possible? There’s a big difference. 

Yes, sometimes metrics translate from an audience having fun, but not always. Many times, shares come from an audience trying to get engagement back. That kind of audience isn’t engaged with the art as much as the potential traffic return. (And it’s smart marketing, don’t get me wrong, it has it’s place). 

Yet, the dancer didn’t care about an audience; she was just having fun. It was simple. It was pure.

That is the most elusive audience, especially online. Here we all are, desperately wanting people to share our articles, get more eyes on our writing so that we can…continue writing for more shares? What’s the goal here? I know a following translates into more opportunities, but something happens to the kind of writing we do when that is the sole focus.

And I’m totally guilty of this. I need to remember what I really want from an audience.

We all need to find dancers to point back at what we create, not because they are trying to build a platform of their own, but because they just genuinely enjoy the result of our creativity.