We storytellers—across all media—tend to live and die by them.
If the audience loves us, we’re ruling the world. If they hate us (or worse, ignore us), we’re practically ready to jump.
Recently a fellow storyteller told me that she wanted to put her work online. She hadn’t done so, because she wasn’t sure anyone would read it.
I understood where she was coming from.
There are days in my own work where I struggle with motivation, because I’m not really sure who will care. You’d be surprised what even paying clients don’t read!
But as I’ve endured the ups and downs of storytelling I’ve noticed something interesting.
The more I fixate on my potential audience, the less I write. And the less I write well.
I call this Audience Anxiety.
It’s so tempting to adopt Anxiety—especially when you’re new and you just want validation.
Yet left unchecked, Audience Anxiety never ends. The resulting fear, frustration, and anger sabotage your work.
And when you’re not writing with freedom and joy, a potential audience will know.
To that end, here are seven ideas that help me tell my tales when no one seems to care. Armed with this outlook, you can power through Audience Anxiety, too, and give your stories the life they deserve.
The right audience is waiting.
But just because we tell stories doesn’t mean we’re entitled to be heard.
Telling tales is what we do—whether or not an audience shows up, And chances are, the more we care about sharing, for its own sake, the more we’ll find an audience willing to receive.
If you’re truly a writer, you have so much more in you than just that one story. Cultivate all of them. Write all of them. Share … ALL of them.
Because having an audience for one story is so much less influential than having an audience for you, the storyteller.
The story’s audience leave when the adventure ends. The storyteller’s audience keep coming back—again, and again, and again.
Which audience would you rather have?
But if every practice becomes a do-or-die performance, your work will stagnate. It will stall out. It might even stop completely.
So practice. Practice liberally. Practice in public.
Let the chips (and the audience) fall where they may.
Praise is nice. Praise is helpful, and we should give it liberally to others. Praise in the form of payment is cool, too.
But if that’s what motivates you to write, you’d better stop now. Seriously.
I have a 40-hour-a-week job and a life, in addition to writing this blog and my online serial. I like it that way, thank you very much. Because it means I get to write for writing’s own sake and cultivate the courage to speak the truth. I’ll never have to forfeit rewards I already receive.
And besides, some of the world’s most powerful fiction, essays, and journalism were decried or even banned in their own time.
Those writers kept on writing anyway. That’s what made them writers.
Instead, the audience you so desperately crave may not like your work at all.
Or worse, they’ll turn out to be crickets.
Are you, your craft, and your vision strong enough to withstand that storm? Maybe, and maybe not.
If you’re still anonymous, thank God for another day to build the stamina you’ll need once you find your audience!
Ask any published author. As exciting as it can be to have fans and an editor asking for more, being paid to tell your stories can also alter your work in ways you might later regret.
Don’t get me wrong. Audiences are great. So is national or international influence.
But like all relationships, the bond between storyteller and audience come with expectations.
Are you (and your art) truly prepared to meet them?
For sure, you do need to learn basic principles of engaging an audience in person, in print, or (most importantly) online.
But too many writers—especially newer ones—obsess about audience (the editor, producer, etc.) to the detriment of craft.
I’ve heard more than one crusty old Hollywood storyteller complain about this phenomenon.
Lasting as long as they have, in the toughest of industries, I suspect it’s wise to listen.
Your story probably isn’t ready for the big leagues, even if you think it is. So why aren’t you busy fine-tuning your craft? That’s what will attract the audience you want.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t seek or cultivate an audience. You absolutely should. Just don’t do it from a place of Audience Anxiety.
After all, there is another option.
You see, the more I focus on writing well for its own sake—while still taking time to share my work publicly—the less Anxious I feel. And the more my audience seem to take care of themselves.
I call this (thanks to Seth Godin!) Audience Anticipation.
When I’m Anticipatory, but not Anxious, I’m a happier writer all around. And (oddly enough) my work finds and resonates with the right people on its own.
So if you’re feeling some Audience Anxiety today . . .
Take a deep breath.
Readjust your perspective.
Then get back to work, telling your stories in print, on film, through design, or whatever medium inspires you.
Because you’re a storyteller. You tell stories.
Tell them well, and your audience will take care of itself.
Your turn! How do you stay balanced between working your craft and seeking an audience? Share experiences and tips here!