The Listener Over Your Shoulder

Here’s writer and English professor Ben Yagoda, saying the exact same thing in today’s Times that I said recently in my piece about what I’ve learned about composing from being a writer:

[G]ood writers (like good conversationalists) are always conscious of the person or persons on the receiving end of their words.

Robert Graves and Alan Hodge called their guide to writing “The Reader Over Your Shoulder,” and it’s an apt metaphor, bringing to mind a little guy perched up there, looking over your stuff and reacting the way a hypothetical reader might. I actually prefer to think in terms of an imagined face-to-face encounter, with eye contact the operative metaphor. Bad conversationalists and bad writers look out into the distance or at the floor, and don’t notice when their listeners’ faces are puzzled, annoyed or bored. Good writers perceive that and respond. And the best writers anticipate these reactions, and consequently are able to avoid them.

Also, I’d say, the best composers.