ONE NIGHT WHILE single and living in Manhattan, I met a beautiful young man named Vinnie. Considerably younger than I, he could have stepped in—or out of—any of the supporting roles in Saturday Night Fever. Still living at home with “Ma,” he worked in construction, and had spaghetti every Sunday night. We had only a few dates, the last of which ended during a good-night kiss, when he pulled away and asked a serious question.
“Yo. Who’s kissing who here?”
It’s a good phrase to remember when making that daunting transition from a vomit draft to a finished piece. Who’s doing the kissing, you might ask, and who am I choosing to kiss? Of all the people you are, who are you in the piece? Will you write from the first person point of view—the “I”? Will you write from the second person, speaking directly to the reader?
Will you use the third person, and hover in an omniscient voice, reporting on something from the outside rather than from the personal point of view? And what’s your expertise? Are you a beginning baker, writing a food blog about learning to bake? That will be your point of view, your personality, and it will be reflected in how you approach your topics. An expert baker has a wholly different set of goals and therefore a different tone, one that commands, while the newbie can be charmingly naïve, though both narrators may be passionately committed to the art of baking.
Who are you making out with? Where will this piece appear? On your blog? No one knows better than you what defines your blog, so you’re good. A personal essay for The New York Times Sunday Magazine? Have you read it religiously for a good long time? You must, you know.
In my class I always ask, “Who wants to write for The New Yorker?” And everyone’s hands shoot up. Then I ask, “Who reads The New Yorker?” and pretty much no hands go up. You do know that while The New Yorker loves cat cartoons, they do not take cute cat stories, right? But other places do accept stories about you and how your cat changed your life, including Cat Fancy magazine, and many cat blogs, and it’s your job to target the right venue for your work so you can write to length, and to the tone of the publication.