The questions:Who’s part of your support group? Who knows you’re a writer, and has read what you wrote? How much does their opinion matter, and do you write things specifically for them?
I'd say my support group would be my family and some of my close friends. People in my circle know that I'm a writer but I wouldn't say all of them have read my work. Or maybe not all of them would be *willing to pay* to read my work. Haha!
Their opinions matter a lot to me. I mean, if my own family members and friends think that my writing sucks...what would the rest of the world think, right? But that's the thing. Friends and family, more often than not, tend to encourage me and give me positive comments. So, while I love my friends and family, I also take their comments or reviews with a grain of salt. I have to factor in their love for me.
The people whose opinions really, really matter would come from fellow writers or editors. It's rare that you get these for free, though. But when I do (like in the case of a poet who edited the content of my poetry book), I feel more than privileged, I feel blessed. His generosity was really inspiring. He gave me pointed critique and encouraged me to evoke, to paint with words and not simply make platitudes, conclusions or descriptions. I am forever grateful for this kind of critique. It means more to me than praise.
I guess you could equate this kind of exchange with that of the salon of the 17th and 18th century. It's a private gathering (or in this age...a private chat) among two or more (but less than ten) writers, artists, philosophers, etc. It is for the honest critique rather than adulation that this is useful to a writer.
But do I write for my readers? Right now, I don't think I could say that I do...at least for a particular set of readers. I write what I want. Maybe I haven't figured out yet that common ground between myself (and what I want to write about) and the great majority. It is that wonderful intersection between what deeply matters and excites the author and what strikes a deep chord with those who read the author's work. I haven't found that golden mean. But I'm working towards it. Ray Bradbury put it really well: "I want your loves to be multiple. I don’t want you to be a snob about anything. Anything you love, you do it. It’s got to be with a great sense of fun. Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say ‘Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…,’ you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else."
Writing is a social thing, though, that's what I try to remember at the end of the day. It's a conversation. If no one is listening, would it be considered writing at all? I remember Emily Dickinson whose body of works was published only after her death. She was writing to someone. Anyone who writes, whether published or not, is participating in a conversation. I write out of my life so that it might spark something in the reader, some recognition, some understanding. I don't have a particular reader in mind. But I do know that my writing springs from my humanity, my common ground with all readers.
Illustration: D'après Abraham Bosse (Français, 1602-1676): Conversation de dames en l'absence de leurs maris: le diner. This painting belongs to the public domain.