Writing In Plain Sight

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?

Being Seen

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.

The Reader

What do you like to read?

 

 

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

The Fortress

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.

Small Towns

Growing up in a town that has only one stoplight has changed my perspective on community and what it means to be a part of one, I think.  In a town where everyone knew everyone else’s business the minute they opened their mouths, it was impossible to be a total loner.  Around dinnertime, when the streetlights began to wink on, casting rosy circles of light on the old side street, we’d meet out in the yard in groups, calling to one another.  I don’t live in that small town anymore, but sometimes I think about it, the memories re-imagined in that idyllic half-truth in which all memories resurface.

It occurred to me today that community isn’t what it used to be.  (Yes, I realize that I sound like an old fuddy-duddy complaining about the good old days).   Here’s the thing: there’s a lot our generation doesn’t even miss.  How can you miss something you don’t even know about?  Some would say that community now falls under the category of a dying tradition.  You know, like walking to school uphill, barefoot in a snowstorm or Air Jordans and acid wash jeans.  Where I might have asked a friend for help, I now go to Google or YouTube to learn how to do pretty much anything.  I’ve noticed that the people I know commute long distances, work online and send status updates, but I don’t even know most of the people in my neighborhood well enough to ask for a cup of sugar.

This got me thinking.  What does this mean for the state of stories and the people who write them? If we are always present online, does it mean we are missing moments in our own realities? 

That being said, I do happen to be writing on a blog.  I love my blog and I love the people who read it.  Since starting considerablespeck.com, I’ve felt more connected to writers (and writing) than I have in a long time, being that I am quiet, weird and never socialized much before The Internet happened.

There is a quote from Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities that has stuck with me:

Paris from the Eiffel Tower.

So where does this leave us?  Is anonymity the new community?  What about that small town, with the kindly neighbors who sat on front porches and knew exactly what grades you got in school or whether you had a date to the fall dance?  It didn’t hit me until this morning, when I logged onto my writing group and was excited to hear what they had to say about my latest literary pursuits that I realized something.  Small towns are everywhere.  I think we make them up as we go, those idyllic meeting posts out under the street lamps.  Community is what we make it and it doesn’t have to be anonymous, even if they exist online.  Small towns are re-imagined through the people that we choose to connect with—wherever they might be.