I sometimes play guitar for Theo. Sometimes I play guitar with Theo. Sometimes we sing silly songs with made up words and goofy rhymes.
It doesn’t matter so much if we are singing about trucks or trash or boogers or puppies. He is often happy to make up words and even sing along when the mood strikes.
I enjoy this time, especially because I know that I’m not that great at playing the guitar or singing. (They are both skills I plateaued a long time ago.) I could stress about my lack of ability or my tendency to sing off key or work my way into a lyrical corner. Instead, I play to my audience. Theo doesn’t know much about skill or talent yet. He just knows that we are having fun, and that is good enough for him.
Not that he’s the perfect audience for every situation. He wouldn’t be helpful if I wanted some critical feedback or advice about when to switch to the bridge. But he is ideal for reminding me that I enjoy playing the guitar and wouldn’t mind getting better at it.
Sometimes, that’s the audience you need, the one that lights up no matter what you write, the one that reminds you why you were attracted to writing in the first place. Other times, you need a more critical eye, or you need advice about where to send a story or an inquiry letter.
The key is to match your expectations to the audience, or vice versa.
Or, you might want to give your audience some guidance if possible. It can be painful to send a piece to a friend, expecting them to pat you on the back or praise your imagery only to get back a list of plot holes. It can be frustrating to have a workshop spend an hour discussing typos and dialogue tags when what you really want to know is whether or not your protagonist is likable.
You can’t always choose your audience, or direct how they will read your work, but you can keep it in mind. And you can temper your expectations when you know a little more about them. You might not want to submit your fantasy novel to a group who focuses on mystery stories, for example.
By paying attention to your audience, you can avoid frustration for you and for them.
Theo is still a toddler, though, so his positive feedback can turn negative in an instant. And his criticism usually sounds like, “I just wish you would stop playing the guitar. It hurts my ears.”