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Imaginary Audience

Some people block because they have an imaginary audience that is critical. If you think about it, you might have an inner audience. For my poetry, I have a muse from a photograph used on an Osvaldo Golijov’s CD (a great contemporary composer).

But for the novel, I don’t really have one, which makes me wonder if I am limiting myself by not having an audience. While writing this, I realized that for my novel, I think the audience is the GI’s who died in Vietnam. I think I’ve got it. It makes me want to quit this program and start typing the second draft. I realize now that i need to have another audience if I hope to do the best work I can.

Many of us have imaginary audiences in our head when we sit down to write. When I write poetry, I write to a small boy writing to his mother in Warsaw in 1931. Since much of my poetry is written for those that perished in the Nazi death camps, this image works.

It also replaces the image I have of my father saying, “you’ll never made a dime writing poetry. You’re wasting your time.”

While I can write it thanks to the 1931 image, but I cannot send it out for publication.

The audience isn’t only for our artistic productions.

I am also doing writing for a union, and some of the members think the job I am doing should have been done six months before I was hired. They are angry and, I see their angry faces when I start to write, and the result it I am blocked. I realized that earlier today, and when I realized I could focus, instead, on the pleasure I get from writing and the excitement and challenge of the work itself, I fell OK about going ahead and that’s just what I did before I turned to this writing tonight.

One example:
Symphony musicians will often audition with a curtain separating them from the jury. Too often, the musician candidate will become anxious as he or she conjures up the most critical of past professors and conductors wincing and grimacing on the other side of the curtain. A successful technique has been to have the musician imagine, instead a jury of friends and family, those of whom he or she enjoys performing for, and in this scenario the curtain is a rather thin material allowing for these faces to become illuminated with background lighting that the musician can control. Thus the musician can choose to make this audience of friendly faces as visible as he or she needs to have them be, or simply relax knowing that these loved ones are there and the musician can instead focus all of his or her attention towards interpreting the music that he or she is playing.

Ed, our psychologist and hypnosis expert, used this when a patient, who was a pianist needed to calm herself before an audition. When asked, the pianist said she was imaging the critics behind the scene. The screen is used so the judges can only choose a candidate based on the sound that instrument makes– and not superficial traits like gender, youth or age, or racial identity. It is only the music.

The audition process scared the pianist. So Ed recommended that she choose an audience in her mind. She had no trouble. She chose supportive friends and family.  She felt fine and her playing soared.  She practiced the hypnotic technique in Ed’s office and then at home for several days before the audition.

The pianist  called after the audition.  She felt great and her playing pleased her. She was relaxed and enjoyed the audition.  I don’t know if she got the job, but she played her best.

Actors and dancers can use this technique and also all of us who have read our work in public. The audiences are supportive, but an imaginary audience is even better.

Try it with your daily writing and see if it doesn’t work out well.  I am going to try with the Vietnam vets, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll compose another with friends that love me. (I don’t have any family in that category– and I’ll bet I’m not the only one.)

Bach composed his work for the highest possible audience. He wrote “For the glory of God” on the top of every manuscript. He was certainly prolific!

What audiences do you see that work for you?  We’d love to hear from you about this. We’ll put some of your choices here on this page.

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