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Audiences and Communities

By Glynn Young

Do you write for an audience?

I don’t.

Most of my career in communications focused on writing for an audience. It might be people listening to a speech; it might be people reading a magazine article or a newspaper story. The audience might be people (sometimes angry) assembled for a town hall meeting. Or company employees.

The audience was always uppermost in my mind. If the people you were trying to communicate with didn’t get it, what you were saying didn’t really matter. Over time, even before the advent of social media, my concern with audience led me to discard the concept completely. I began to think more in terms of community – a community of people who, like me, were image-bearers.

Image-bearers, by definition, have intrinsic value in the sight of God. An image-bearer may be a bestselling novelist or a struggling writer who will never be published. Both have equal value in God’s eyes.

The idea startled me, but it permeated my writing from the outset, because my writing was happening at the same time my ideas were changing.

My first novel began with a song. I was on a long, cross-country flight, and the movie selections didn’t appeal, so I listened to a few of the music programs. One interviewed a young Greek tenor, and included several of his songs. The man had a beautiful voice, and one song was sung in Italian, a language I don’t speak. But it evoked an image of a priest dancing on a beach. (If I could explain that, I would stake out a career in psychology.)

That dancing priest stayed only in my head for the next four years. I gave him a name. I changed him from Catholic to Anglican. I left the beach behind. I gave him an impossible love interest. I added friends. I put him on a bicycle. And I mentally built a story around him.

At the time, I never thought about writing, publishing, or an audience for the story. I never even told my wife what I was up to. It took a cataclysmic family event – Hurricane Katrina – to convince me to put the story on a computer screen. I didn’t want to lose the story that was in my head.

When I began to write, the words gushed – 250,000 words strong, until I stopped. I discovered the compact, succinct story in my head was a complete mess when it was written down. A complete mess that was way too long.

At work, I was already changing how I thought about people, aka “targeted audiences.” And I was changing my understanding of “messages,” or the substance of communication. Social media was just beginning to emerge as a factor in communication, although not the juggernaut it eventually came to be. All of that thinking swirled through my constant editing and revising of the novel manuscript.

I was not writing for an audience. I was writing as part of a community.

I was not trying to communicate a message. I was telling a story.

I was not creating for a mythical reader. I was writing for people who each bore the image of God.

I believe I was the one who was transformed.

Glynn Young is a national award-winning speechwriter and communications executive. He is the author of two novels, Dancing Priest and A Light Shining, and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work. Visit Glynn at Facebook, Twitter, his blog, and his business web site.

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3 Responses to Audiences and Communities

  1. I loved hearing, once again, the background of how Dancing Priest came to be, Glynn. Your article here is spot on about why/how we write – not for an audience, but to tell the stories God has given us. I agree that we, the writers, are the ones who are ultimately transformed.
    Blessings!

  2. Barbara says:

    I love your perspective and I love that you exposed your imagery. You, being real, helps create a space for community where we can share the odd imagery and inspiration that comes to us.

    After reading your post, I feel inspired because I love the transformation that happens in me as I pursue writing.

  3. Glynn says:

    It’s fascinating to me what happens during the writing process. As thoughts, instincts, emotion, and personal experience sometimes awkwardly fuse together, self-understanding gradually emerges.

    Martha and Barbara – thank you or your comments!