Saturday, August 13, 2005

Writers and readers

“…under the imaginary table that separates me from my readers, don’t we secretly clasp each other’s hands?” – Bruno Schulz

Writers are needy people, aren’t we. I was reminded of this most recently because a story I wrote was published in Infuze. I was certainly happy and excited about it, and I was eager to see what comments people left for me. I was hoping that some of the writers I respect would read it and say nice things. Then I was ashamed of myself for worrying about what other people thought of it. I questioned my motivation for sending the story to Infuze in the first place. Do I write to receive the praise of men? Or do I recognize that my ultimate critic is God and he’s the one I need to worry about pleasing?

The quote Kathleen Popa suggested as a starting point this month relates to this issue. Because I believe that we don’t write in a vacuum. We expect someone to read our stories and essays. Even as I write this I wonder about the people who will read it. Will it resonate with them? Or will they dismiss it as the rambling navel gazing of an aging baby boomer.

Mark often talks about writing as being part of an ongoing conversation. He’s thinking more in terms of writing as part of a tradition extending from the great authors of the past into the present. And certainly there’s truth in that. We all can think of writers who have influenced us in different ways. I want to write mysteries, so I’d better be conversant with the tradition — from Edgar Allan Poe through Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers to Sue Grafton and Michael Connolly. This very essay is part of a conversation about Christian fiction between writers from diverse backgrounds.

But the conversation also includes the readers. In fact, it must include the readers. I’ve read books and stories by all the mystery writers I named above. Before I was a writer, I was a reader (compulsively so – as a kid I would read the backs of the cereal boxes while I ate breakfast, I read signs posted in windows – if it had words on it, I read it.). When I open a book, there’s an unspoken contract between the writer and myself. The writer says “Here’s a story I think you’ll enjoy. Sit down, relax, let me share it with you.” And I say, “OK, I’ll see what you have to say and let you show me a different way of looking at the world.” A reader has to be open to what the writer has to say, and a writer has to be aware of the one who will read his words.

Of course, you can’t please every reader, nor should you want to. Stephen King, in his excellent memoir On Writing, says he writes for his Ideal Reader – his wife. He suggests that most writers have someone in mind when they write, someone whose opinion they value, someone they trust to give an honest assessment of the words on the page.

So I believe that writing is reaching out to readers. When I write, I'm hoping that my words will connect in some way with someone. It was a very satisfying feeling to read the comments on my story because I could tell that the story connected with the readers, even touched a few of them. They got it. In that way, the readers responded to me, clasped my hand under the table, so to speak. That may not always happen, of course. But I believe that by reaching out, I'm making myself available to God, to do his work through my words (if he so chooses). And even if there is no praise, the reaching out is what he wants me to do. Sometimes that will have to be enough.


Gina Burgess said...

Linda, I so much enjoyed your story at Infuze. It had such a poignant imagery and I felt the cold rain and the taunt muscles and the despair.

When we write the stories that God gives us, I know He smiles. I believe He's smiling at you right now.

lindaruth said...

Thanks! :)

The Curmudgeon's Rant said...


Just wanted to stop and say hi. Love your blog.


Jeanne Damoff said...

I know how you feel, Linda. I think we all love to bask in positive feedback. I imagine God understands this desire in us, because He loves to bask in our praise.

Not only are you a gifted writer, you are also a great encourager. Thanks for "doing unto others." :)

Love, Jeanne

violet said...

Linda, I could so relate to the first paragraph of your post!

Whatever your motivation to send the story to Infuze, I'm glad you did. It's a beautiful story and will surely bless more people posted there than languishing in your files!

Keep writing. Keep sending. Keep being needy - just like most of us!

Paula said...

When we write in our journals it's just for us and God. When we write for others I think it is almost impossible not to wonder how they are responding to our words. Writing comes from inside of us--it is a part of us--and very difficult to separate. That said, our final audience is the same audience we write for in our journals--God and ourselves. His opinion is really the only important one in the long run.

Great post

Dee said...

Linda, great story and great entry for this month's celebration. We, christian writers are a different sort. You know? Not only do we seek comments from our readers to see if we are actually good at this writing thing, but to find out if we are really connecting spirit to spirit with others. Our motives to write are more than the secular authors, so our motives to be read is also more. Great entry.