To know whom to write for is to know how to write.
I’m trying out a joke with my students. When I talk about the adoption of a “rhetorical posture” in writing I have long said that we should here listen, not to Hemingway, but to Virginia Woolf, after which I normally quote the sentence in my epigraph. The joke I’m working on (it doesn’t yet quite land) consists of a piece of deadpan misdirection. “…Virginia Woolf,” I say, “who reminds us that, in writing, we share the loneliness that is the truth of things” (a reference to a line from To the Lighthouse that I learned from Frank Cioffi). I let the remark hang in the air for a second or two and then admit — sometimes shaking myself out of a feigned reverie — that this reminder will not be as useful to them as something else she said, and quote the correct sentence. Unlike a novel, I explain, which arguably does imagine a reader who is as profoundly lonely as the author, an academic text implies a knowledgeable reader facing a particular difficulty. Scholarly writing does not share a loneliness that is the truth of things. It asserts truths that can be talked about.