By Judith Ross for Talking Writing
This week I am writing new copy for my organization’s Web site. In her book, Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works, Janice (Ginny) Redish suggests developing a persona for your users that, among other things, identifies their values, emotions, expertise, demographics, and the kind of language they use. Her advice has allowed me to feel as though I am writing one side of a conversation that will hopefully encourage users to ‘talk back’ by downloading a report or giving us a call. In this case, as when writing for almost any magazine or newsletter, the audience’s needs come first.
The role of audience is completely different, however, if we are trying to break boundaries and do something new. In that situation, having a ‘persona’ looking over your shoulder, forcing you to weigh every word, note, or brush stroke is more stifling than helpful.
My son Ben, a trumpet player, performs in a variety of settings. Last month I heard him play with one of his experimental projects, performing music that he and others in the band composed.
While Ben strives to give his listeners the best possible experience with this kind of music, he can’t let concerns about their likes and dislikes intrude on his creative process. He told me that if he starts to worry about the audience when he is improvising, the music can suffer.
“Worrying about what ‘others’ might think is only going to interfere,” he wrote in an email. “This attitude is not self indulgent because if you are doing it right, the art that you create will touch on universal truths that will resonate with others because of how well they resonate with you. Attempting to ‘calibrate’ what you do artistically to the perceived knowledge, needs and experience of your intended audience is doomed to failure, because presumably what art music audiences want is to be drawn into the artist's world either intellectually or emotionally. Great art transports people to a place that is outside of their normal existence.”
Kurt Vonnegut, whose books often take people to new places, once said that he wrote for an audience of one: his dead sister. Who do you listen to when you create? Who must you silence?
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