You are always listening…when you write, for the voice which answers.
Some years ago when I was engaged in research into the therapeutic benefits to creative writing students of writing fictional autobiography as part of a writing apprenticeship, I noticed that some of them found it difficult to use themselves as a basis for fiction because of fears of how they might be seen by others (see Hunt 2000, Chs 2, 4). This was not always a fully conscious phenomenon; indeed on closer examination it appeared that these writers were not so much anticipating the reaction of real people in the outside world as that of an imaginary reader or audience implicit in the writing process itself. Subsequently I set out to explore this phenomenon further through a writing workshop with groups of students and others. I used a guided fantasy and gathered information on the experience through questionnaires. I am grateful to those who participated in this project for permission to quote from their material in this chapter. The chapter looks at what those experiences can tell us about the effect of imagining the reader implicit in the writing process (or the 'implicit reader' for short), both on our relationship with ourselves and with ourselves as writers.
When I first started thinking about the reader in the writing process I was using Wolfgang Iser's term 'implied reader' to describe it (Iser 1980). The 'implied reader' is a role that a piece of writing persuades its reader to adopt, the ideal implied reader being the reader who understands the intentions of the implied author and shares his or her facts and values (Booth 1991:422). The writer may not be fully conscious of imbuing the writing with an implied reader, but for Iser it is an integral part of the finished text and essential for its interpretation.