One of the things a writer does most of all is watch.
Then we make stuff up and write it down.
Because we can’t just write about ourselves, sitting alone in a room with our computer, we need somebody to talk to. it can be somebody we like or, perhaps preferably, don’t like. Because, maybe, most of all, we need somebody to bother us.
They become watch-worthy. And then they fade from our awareness, making room for imagination to do its work.
Pretty soon there’s us and then there’s the other guy who isn’t quite as real a guy.
When a writer brings a character to a reader, it’s through an emotional experience. We begin to see our other guy as more than a concept. As somebody we might like. Or don’t like. But we see them really up close, we get to know them at least as well as we know ourselves. Probably better.
We want our readers to see them the same way. We write something over and over until we feel like we got it right.
We form hopeful groups and hand our writing to people who want to write something else entirely, like poetry or memoir, and who may not even want to read our work, they want to read their work, they want somebody else to read their work and love it.
But we read all, comment in pencil, and pass the pages along to the reader on the right, while accepting a new set of pages from the reader on the left.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter whether we’re reading poetry or memoir or fiction of one genre or another, we’re going to tell what our experience of the work is. We laughed. We cried. We shared—except, what did this line mean here in the third paragraph on pg 6, anyway? Who was talking at that point?
It’s a little like turning in homework for a grade, it’s also a little like making an appointment for a root canal, only it isn’t an A we’re looking for now or a painless encounter with hot chocolate. It’s a happy reader.
And when our homework comes back from the third or fourth reader, it’s covered with pencil marks and brown rings from somebody’s coffee cup and maybe a greasy spot from where she set her sandwich down. We know she read it all the way through, no matter that she mostly wants to know what everybody thought of her work.
I once got a page back that had a picture drawn on in crayon. A fellow writer/reader’s four-year-old had gone around the house looking for drawing paper and he found some.
I was less certain about that reader at first, but her comments were ruthlessly intelligent, and brief, without making a judgment about what my writing ought to be. Her critiques taught me to cut to the chase.
This process sounds a little grueling, but it’s good practice, a writer spends months, sometimes years, trying to find a happy reader,
someone who cares enough about the words we’ve written to mark all over the manuscript with purple pencil, asking questions about everything in the story, making sure we thought of everything. They ask us to write some parts over and over until they think we got it right.
We do this gladly.
Only a month away from the end of the annual summer publishing slump, i hope you're all writing madly for that moment when the various houses' departments (editorial, art, sales, pr) have reconvened from vacations to read and discuss our work.
Alternatively, i suppose, you could be sitting on the porch swing, thinking about writing ; )
Perhaps, watching the watch-worthy?
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