Writing for an audience

What’s most difficult about writing?

Writing for an audience. Hands down.

I feel like I need to clarify myself here, because even though teachers count as my “audience,” I’m not really talking about them. Sure, I take them into consideration and try to meet their expectations, occasionally pausing to see if what I’m writing fits their standards, but I don’t tend to stress about it. What does stress me out is when my peers have to read when I’ve written.

That’s when I start freaking out.

As an undergraduate, I took three creative writing classes. Each of these involved workshops in which we’d read what our classmates had written and give feedback on it. The author was not usually allowed to talk until the very end. First, we would start out with what we liked about the story. This was the easiest and most lighthearted part about these workshops, because some people never got used to giving constructive criticism to their classmates, aloud, in front of everyone. But eventually the positive comments would end, and the class would be filled with a palpable silence as we waited for our teacher to say what would inevitably come next:

“Constructive criticism?”

There was always a moment, a beat, in which everyone looked around to see who would dare to start. Then once one person talked, the hands would go up, one by one.

“I’ve seen it come to blows before; try to keep your comments professional and respectful,” a teacher said once, on our first day of workshops. “And writers: try not to take anything personally.”

How could you not take it personally when writing itself is so personal? I never slept the night before my workshops, never. I remember the slow horror of realizing, at 4 am, that I hated everything I had written, all 15 pages of it. My audience was all I could think about; I just wanted to write something good enough for them.

And then the workshops. I can breathe a sigh of relief just thinking about them because they were never as scary as I thought they would be. Writing that first draft was brutal, but for subsequent drafts I felt energized because every comment—positive or negative—inspired me. I was proud of what I had done well and I was eager to strengthen the rest. It was so interesting to look at my writing (somewhat) objectively and see it through the eyes of the reader.

Even though writing for an audience of my peers used to be nerve-racking, in the end it was always so fulfilling to hear their responses.  Now I see peer-reviewing as an integral part of my writing process. No matter how many times I try to put myself in the reader’s perspective, I always miss something until I hand off my writing to an actual reader.

As for the all-nighters, well, procrastination may have been a key factor as well. That’s something I still need to work on, but I’m really in no rush…

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  • Nicole Wittenburg says:


    I think the key thing here is that you eventually got to a place where feedback was inspiring. I definitely can relate to the anxiety to some degree, but I think overall the adrenaline of the unknown and the vulnerability is exciting. It’s all part of the process. So tell me…were you up all night worrying before you posted this blog entry? 😛

  • Janet Dengel says:

    I agree that writing should have an element of excitement that lessens some of the anxiety. I think I’m anxious before writing–I get so much done around the house rather than sitting down to write. But once I do sit down to write, everything else disappears and it is exciting, even when the words aren’t perfect. I wonder how we get students to feel this excitement.


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