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Recently, while researching the concept of voice in writing, I came across this blog post on The Adventurous Writer. One piece of advice the post offered was to “picture one specific reader and write to him or her.” The author suggests that as we write we imagine “one specific reader—one that [we’re] not trying to impress—and just communicating with her.” I love that—not impressing. Just communicating.

In public relations (my day job), we are always considering what we call “target audience.” At a staff meeting a couple years ago, we all gathered around a whiteboard and sketched out a vision of one—just one—of our target audience members. The exercise was meant to give us a concrete image of the person for whom we were writing.

I’d applied this exercise to my day job with good results, but never to my fiction writing. I’m always so caught up in the characters, in the story. And maybe the idea of picturing my story being read by someone who wasn’t a member of my critique group was slightly overwhelming. My manuscript, suddenly a paperback plucked up by a curious reader or an e-book on the screen of somebody’s Nook. The idea is exhilarating, but also sort of terrifying—not unlike riding a roller coaster.

But lately in my writing practice, I’ve been spinning my wheels a bit. I can’t seem to muster up the old passion, so I’ve been turning to writing exercises to help me reenergize.

So here is my “one specific reader”—a concrete vision of a person to whom I am writing:

Lindsay, age 37, stay-at-home mom

Lindsay is married with two kids, both in elementary school. She’s a quiet, thoughtful sort of person, the type who enjoys waking up early and sipping coffee while watching mist curl over the mountains beyond her backyard. She finds beauty in small, everyday moments and is creative. Though she’s primarily a stay-at-home mom, she probably has a side business—or two—that allows her to make use of her artistic side. She vacations with her family in the mountains, where they go camping or rent a cabin. Once a year she tries to get away with her sister for a weekend in New England. She sometimes reads at night after the kids are in bed, but usually her reading time is in the morning, after the kids catch the school bus and while the laundry tumbles in the dryer. She has a busy life, so she looks for books that give her perspective—the “meaning of life stuff”—but she also wants adventure. She reads many different types of books, but she likes stories that give her a thrill and sense of wonder. She wants a story that can be both thought-provoking and entertaining.

The interesting thing is that, even in this brief exercise, I see my voice. I notice the things to which my mind’s eye is drawn, that blend of the everyday and the spiritual, the place where our daily lives intersect with the possibility for adventure and epiphany. I can also see my inner poet rearing her head–the alliteration and music in while…watching, mist…mountain, and beyond…backyard. The words have a soft, lilting music, and in that, I hear my voice.

I’m hoping that imagining “Lindsay” when I write or revise will give me a stronger sense of why I write, motivating me to pound out today’s word count—because somewhere out there, the Lindsays of the world are waiting.

I’d love to hear what other writers’ imagined readers look like. What about yours? Do you find this exercise helpful?

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