Writer’s Guide: Know Your Audience

A basic piece of advice for all writers is to know their audience. In order to reach someone, you need to have a conception of their interests, their motivations, their knowledge, and their prejudices. Whether it’s writing a note to your friend, or writing for a workshop class, or writing a text message that your mobile carrier will copy into a law enforcement database, the same principles apply.

Starbucks Coffee

Starbucks Coffee (Rudolf Schuba, Flickr)

It’s good to have a routine for writing. Sit somewhere where all you do is write, buy your favourite cup of coffee, and turn the wi-fi off on your laptop so that the hidden keyloggers don’t transmit all those aborted sentences to government keyword-monitoring servers. If there’s one thing worse than a publisher not understanding your vision, it’s a counter-terrorism unit paying you a visit at 3am! Ha-ha!

Once you get in the habit of writing for a particular audience, it becomes effortless. When you write a heartfelt message to your loved ones, you’ll automatically consider the effect your word and phrase choices will have on you, your spouse, your children, and the RCMP officers assigned to your file.

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An open letter to Michel Samson and Jason Kenney on access to income and employment

An open letter to

Michel Samson
Member of the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly for Cape Breton-Richmond
Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism

(response, from Kelly Regan, below)


Jason Kenney
Member of Parliament for Calgary Southeast
Minister of Employment and Social Development:


I am presently residing in Sherbrooke, part of Very Rural Nova Scotia. Of course, I don’t have to stay here, and I didn’t even have to come here. But it works very well for me, except for the tricky problem of income.

Sherbrooke Village recently posted an advertisement on the Service Canada Job Bank seeking an archival assistant. I would have applied for this position, even though it’s temporary – the work seems interesting, it would leverage my IT skills, I’d learn something, and it would be a pickup of both money and experience. And it’s local.

But the position requires people to have received EI in past 3 years, so I’m ineligible. It’s maddening; it just seems arbitrary and unfair. I’m no longer a student, so I don’t qualify for the student positions (with the Village or, for example, the Eastern Counties Regional Library) that come across my radar either. When I was a student, I thought jobs reserved for students were great things. Now the shoe’s on the other foot and it hurts like heck.

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An open letter to Peter MacKay regarding his proposed restrictions on prostitution

An open letter to Peter MacKay, Member of Parliament for Central Nova:

(“response” below)

I am alarmed by Bill C-36, your proposed prostitution legislation, and would encourage you to scrap it and start over. “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons”, an act keeping with this government’s convention of naming acts by what people want rather than what they do, is a laudable objective, but you can reduce human enslavement and trafficking without effectively prohibiting prostitution1, which you are in fact doing, given that you would have communication, advertising, and purchasing all banned.

With regards to prostitution, you use the word ‘inherent’ frequently, saying things like “inherent harms of prostitution.” Inasmuch as inherent means “existing in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute”, what, exactly, are these? I am especially eager for you to enumerate dangers related to prostitution itself that are indivisible from prostitution, not just ones that stem from the legal climate that has held sway until now.

Instead of ‘inherent’, it would be nice if you would use the more precise words ‘innate’ or ‘intrinsic’ because then we would know you’re talking about attributes indivisible from the thing itself. For example, if we’re talking about alcohol prohibition, a hangover is an innate and intrinsic harm, while getting gunned down by the mob is an extrinsic harm – though, in the wrong legal regime, perhaps a ‘characteristic’ one.2

I believe sexual rights are far more important than alcohol rights – sexuality is baked into us and our countless predecessors, while alcohol is a relatively recent discovery and can be lived without, which is not to say it should be prohibited. Yet comparing our attitudes to sex and alcohol may help expose the inconsistencies in our thinking.

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  1. I’ve decided that I’m not going to use the word “prostitute” very often. It makes as much sense as calling a gay man a “sodomist”. But I enjoyed using the word unflinchingly and unabashedly. I’d do it again if it serves the purpose of provoking bullies like Peter MacKay.

    Lezlie Lowe, Chronicle-Herald“Defusing the landmines of language”

  2. Some definitions of ‘inherent’ do suggest that it means a permanent and inseparable element – for example, Dictionary.com. To me, it merely means to be closely connected with, but not necessarily inseparable. I could be out on a limb here. And here’s what might be a better discussion of this basket of words. That James Champlin Fernald seems like he knows what he’s talking about. 

Why we shouldn’t force ourselves to forget Justin Bourque

Sun News Network not to use Justin Bourque's name

Sun News Network not to use Justin Bourque’s name (Tweet by National Newswatch)

We should remember the officers and their stories. Their names were David Ross, Fabrice Georges Gevaudan, and Douglas James Larche.

But we shouldn’t apologize for being interested in Justin Bourque and his story. After all, he is the person who did the shooting, therefore the story of why and how this shooting took place is much more in Justin Bourque’s story, and hardly at all in the officers’ stories. Yes, tell the stories of the officers, respect them and honour them. But this isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game. Honouring the officers does not necessitate obliterating Bourque from our consciousness. There is plenty of airspace.

Fortunately and unfortunately, there is only one Justin Bourque. I say unfortunately because it’s hard to do science on a sample size of one. We can do no better than to have hunches or guess at what events led to the behaviour, as people and their behaviours are absurdly complex. But erasing him is counterproductive, self-defeating. While it’s not going to be easy or even necessarily possible to come to any useful, potentially falsifiable conclusions, erasing the information will ensure that it’s impossible to do so. For now, let’s save everything. We don’t have to stare at it, no, but that’s something that should be up to us as individuals.

It’s almost… almost! like some elements of the Great Media Machine are trying to grift us with Three-card Monte. The money card might be there somewhere, but we’re encouraged to turn up distractions. But I’m not quite cynical enough to believe that Sun News Network doesn’t believe that what they’re doing is in the broader public interest.

Some people think Justin Bourque did this at least partly for the notoriety, and maybe that’s a factor. But looking at his Facebook will tell you that he must be at least slightly ideologically motivated. And either way, notoriety or ideology, we still give a shit about stuff like this not happening. We must not let our retributive don’t-give-him-what-he-wanted tendencies to lead us to cut off our noses to spite our faces.

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Why Privacy

Snow Shovel

You can get quite hot doing this. There’s a very easy way to cool off. (Flickr)

I told a friend that I was working on an essay, and she made a guess about what the title was. I told her the real title and she replied, “Cuz everyone don’t wanna see a bare ass Will Matheson frolicking in the snow?”

Hard to argue with that.

I have another friend, who lives in rural Nova Scotia, who speaks to the elder incumbents frequently:

“If I have learned anything out here, it’s that older people in the country really hate if someone is being a dick to other people for no reason. ‘Why can’t people all just mind their own business? It’s like a disease that is spreading or something,’ says the good neighbour.”

Privacy is, at least in part, a protection from individual-society disagreement. This is why we have naturist habitats in secluded locations. This is why parties with alcohol in Iran happen on the downlow. This is why networks of drug production and distribution are kept secret. Yes, this is also why, say, botnet-running blackmailers stay in the shadows, too, but I think it’s important that we reflect on what, if anything, makes our purges special, aside from the fact that they’re ours.

For the many things that aren’t networks of baby theft, cooking, and meat distribution, we should consider privacy as a crude, temporary measure, but not necessarily a thing to attack. It is a queue into which we can place things to be reconciled with public life later. Ideally, it protects what is conscionable among a minority from the absolutist tyranny of the majority.1

Babies, Stove

Babies, Stove – These things should never never ever ever go together oh gawd I’m gonna get struck by lightning just for uploading this. (Wikipedia, Wikipedia)

The more society would drive a practice, benign or not-so-benign, underground, the more exacerbated the harmful effects become – provided, that is, there even are any. For example, young people might have a greater innate risk of alcohol poisoning, but their holding parties in secret must increase this risk. For one thing, few adults will subject themselves to the legal and social risks of monitoring such parties. For another, calling for an ambulance means everything is busted.2

And yet millions of teenagers go on drinking, with few or no lasting effects to speak of. You there – yes, you – did you drink when you were a teenager? For the love of crumbcake, tell the world! I didn’t drink when I was a teenager, but I didn’t hesitate to shame people who did. I regret the second thing. My objections were ungroundedly moral – it’s wrong because the Judeo-Christian-Dr. Laura morality corpus says it’s wrong, it’s wrong because alcohol is dangerous. I no longer care about the first, and in this essay I’m going to undermine the second as a reason to prohibit it, even though, really, alcohol is still dangerous.

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  1. Or, more likely, the tyranny of a para-religious minority that few have the gumption to openly question. But we also enable them by forcing fundamentalism on each other

  2. Robby Soave writes about this at Reason.com as it applies to US colleges. The legal drinking age in the United States is an absurd 21.