Writing for the Millard Fillmore Crowd

The portrait of Millard Fillmore located in the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC. Photo: National Portrait Gallery

Do you recall the first time you gave a presentation in front of an audience?  For me, it was the 5th grade. My presentation topic? President Millard Fillmore. I was so excited to share my newfound passion for the last ruling Whig, who got running water into the White House, or how he oversaw the admission of California as a free state.  My 5th-grade audience was not as amused.

In Massachusetts, the term “audience” appears 36 times in the 2017 English Language Arts Frameworks. Expectations for high school students include 

  • Maintain appropriate consistency in style and tone while varying sentence patterns for meaning and audience interest.
  • Establish and maintain a style appropriate to the audience.

Most academic scholars boldly exclaim that writing for an audience is integral to the writing process. I disagree completely.

Writing in a Film and Media Classroom

In my film and media course, writing and creating is naturally designed for a public audience. My students struggle to write their ideas confidently, especially knowing an audience is eager to watch.  I often stress to my students to write unapologetically and not worry about the audience.

 I think it’s sometimes unfair to ask students to think of their audience before writing. I worry that this practice paralyzes students and deters writing altogether. Writing should be an exercise intrinsically motivated, not relying on how an extrinsic audience will respond. The education system arbitrarily assigns an audience to writers and doesn’t emulate real-world applications.  Most audiences develop once writing is complete.

Writing for Yourself

I am currently reading “On Writing Well,” by William Zinsser,  and he argues that writers “should be writing for yourself.” Zinsser argues that writing is a skill and an attitude, and writers should “be yourself when you write.”  The passage resonated with me. I’ve always been the type of writer and artist who creates things for myself, regardless of an audience. In the classroom, we develop opportunities to build confidence as we celebrate student work with an audience.

I’m also not arguing that we should just abandon our practices of knowing our audience before writing.  The information gained from learning about an audience can inspire a writer’s tone, benefit financial goals, maximize political agendas, or persuade an audience to think differently.  Writing specifically for an audience can be invaluable to maximize outcomes. 

No matter who the audience is, writing comes from the soul of a writer. Writers should never become deterred to write based on an audience’s response. Unpopular opinion, I admittedly loved the Star Wars Skywalker Saga, and the conclusion to the Game of Thrones series, despite many people hating them. I genuinely appreciate the writers’ unabashed courage to tell these stories the way they envisioned. All writers should channel their passion for their topic regardless of their audience, even if it’s about Millard Fillmore.

1 Comment

  1. Great Zinsser quote. I think that writer’s should keep their audience in mind—because we’re all doing it to ultimately share it with others—but we should also know that we can’t control anything that happens after that.

    Thanks for this post!

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