24 November 2010

Writing Wednesday: The Audience

Waiting for Inspiration
For the last several minutes, I have been staring at a blank screen and a blinking cursor hoping inspiration will strike and I would be able to compose something that could pass for a blog post. But the only thing that has come on (repeatedly) is the power saver mode of the computer. Inspiration is not going to strike. I am not on Mount Sinai, and the Ten Commandments of Writing are not going to miraculously reveal themselves to me in a form that can be readily shared. If I have to get this post on Writing and Motivation posted, I would have to do it all by myself.

But when the last thing you wrote was five months back, how on earth can you justify writing a post on Writing? And even if you did write that post, why would anyone want to read it? Maybe that is the reason why I have not been able to write - because I am trying to write for an audience which I think I know, and can't come up with something even remotely interesting.

Now that I know the problem - not knowing what the audience wants, and therefore not being able to give it - what should I do? Luckily, that problem has only two solutions, one of which is totally unacceptable to me. I could either quit and allow Hart's fantastic post to enjoy 48 hours in the spotlight, or I could wing it. Much as I would love to have Hart's post stay at the top of the blog page for a whole day more, I cannot bring myself to quit. Which means, I have to just wing it.

The Audience
And the best way to do that is by talking about the problem itself - knowing your audience. As many of you know (and the rest might have guessed), I work for a non-profit. And the unfortunate reality of non-profits is that what matters almost as much as the work you do is how you communicate your work so as to be able to raise funds that help you continue doing what you do.

One of the organisations I raise funds for provides vocational training for physically challenged girls from disadvantaged (but not totally impoverished) backgrounds. The most popular vocational training course (after tailoring) is the course that trains you to be a beautician. It is popular not only because there is great demand for the services of beauticians, but also because girls from conservative families are not encouraged to work in an environment where there are men - the beauty business is one business where you are unlikely to ever encounter anyone but other women. I would have imagined that it would be easy to raise money to subsidise the training of girls as beauticians, but even after two months, I found that nobody was even remotely interested in the donation option.

Had I been able to afford it, I would have sponsored as many girls as I could. Why then was nobody else interested in doing so? There had to be a reason, and a very compelling reason too, because it had not met with limited success, it had met with zero success.

After inwardly blaming the marketing team for not pushing the donation option, I took a look at the text. Nowhere was it mentioned that the girls were physically challenged. The organisation was mentioned, but unless you are familiar with the organisation itself, why would you assume the girls had disabilities? What's worse, thought statistics were given on the size of the beauty business in the country, the fact that the beauty business was one of the few fields which girls from "good" families were allowed to enter was not mentioned at all.

The effective approach
I would love to tell you that the moment the text was changed, donations started flooding in, but that is not the case. The change was made only yesterday, and it is far too early to tell. But I suspect people will look at the donation option with greater interest now.

There is a lesson it in for all of us who call ourselves writers. We are often guilty on two counts - we know what we intend to write but are often guilty of not expressly writing it, and we write for ourselves rather than for an audience. The first is sloppy writing and should be caught in the editing phase; the second will make the process of marketing the work impossibly difficult.

How do we avoid these traps? I wish I had enough experience to give you an answer, but the best I can manage is that we avoid these traps by being acutely aware of them. If Joanne Kathleen could abbreviate her name to her initials to appeal to what she thought would be her audience, why should lesser mortals shy away from trying to please their audience?


Hart Johnson said...

Great post, Rayna. I think we so often know exactly what we mean and don't even think about the underlying assumptions, when for the audience, those make a huge difference in perception.

another factor, possibly, is in the wealthy countries with more to donate (the US), BEAUTY services are seen as a high end luxery and there may be some strange perception that donating somehow subsidizes the PATRONS instead of the workers. I know that sounds sort of convoluted, but it's possible. Definitely should help to point out the girls are disabled and have a limited number of kinds of places they COULD work.

CA Heaven said...

After a reluctant start, it turned into a very good post, Rayna, Good points about targeting the audience >:)

Working in a single-gender work place seams to be kind of boring to me. I like to have diversity, both in age and gender (on the side; what's the different meanings of sex and gender?)

Didn't know that JK was short for Joanne Kathleen. Then I've learnt something new today, two minutes before midnight >:)

Cold As Heaven

ViolaNut said...

No matter how screwed up things are in my life, this kind of post always helps me put it in perspective. That's two in two days on the have/have not divide. Time to get my charitable donations organized...

(reply to above aside: I may be a little confused, but I think "sex" refers to biological identity and "gender" to psychological. Most of the time they match. When they don't, you get people like my roomie {urmnothanks.tumblr.com}. I think that's her blog.)

Hart Johnson said...

Leanne-you nailed it. As a psychologist we distinguish depending on 'medically identified' versus self identified. The former we call sex, the latter gender, though not all sub-genres respect in, in large due to pragmatics... for instance I am an author on a paper about 'abuse' and because 'sexual-abuse' is so often referred to, we use gender for what was MEASURED as sex.