I had a writing teacher in high school who refused to watch TV, read certain books or engage in any way with “stimuli” that might taint his writing process. I was thinking of what had become of him when it occurred to me that in this age of bite-sized, easily microwaveable insta-thoughts it is difficult to write only for yourself. But it wasn’t until I read Cheri Lucas’ post Writing For Me, Writing For Others that I began to really think about my own writing habits.
It made me wonder:
Should you write for anyone? Is it possible to write only for yourself?
I went back and looked at my own journals, the ones that I keep hidden under the bed. Reading through the odds and ends of my mental scribblings, I found that many of the entries addressed an unknown reader. I might just have always had a lurking twinge of insanity, but it also made me think that regardless of whether we want to write solely for ourselves, it’s hard to shake the idea of a reader. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t want to leave the reader out. Imagining a reader makes me feel like my words have been “seen,” that they are part of a larger network of ideas.
I’m not the only one who has spent some time thinking about The Reader. If you like literary theory (does anyone?), Wolfgang Iser wrote a whole crazy book on the subject. To paraphrase a very long, headache-inducing argument, Iser says that…
The Reader is as much a part of the reading experience as the written work itself, because we (The Reader) read ourselves into the story through the gaps in the narrative.
If this is true, maybe we can’t help writing for someone else? After all, we’re all readers as well as writers. This whole idea of writing for someone else might just be coming from the fact that reading and interpreting is never really a solo operation. Sure, there’s the social media factor–who we share our thoughts with after the fact–but there’s also an unspoken interaction with the writer when we read a book we love.
Fortress of Hermitude
There’s a certain amount of risk-taking involved in writing. But I think that’s what makes it worthwhile. For a while, I felt pretty shy about everything that I wrote. I didn’t want anyone to read it just in case it was absolutely terrible. I spent a lot of time writing by myself in the fortress of hermitude*
But when I think of writing as an open and continuous interaction, it’s not so scary to write and put myself out there. If The Reader is always there, engaging with the story–helping it come alive with their own imaginations–then telling the perfect story doesn’t have to rest on my shoulders.
So maybe I won’t be so quick to shut the reader out. I’ll just keep on telling stories and watch them evolve.
*Definition: a small closet-like room that often looks like one of those houses off of Hoarders: Extreme Edition.