…as if no one will ever read it

I haven’t done a real blog post here in a long time. Forgive me. Life, work, and other concerns have distracted me from what I enjoy doing most. Truth be told, I haven’t been writing much lately, either, and that hurts me the most. But certain things have happened in recent weeks and months to put me in one of my philosophical moods again, and very much on the defensive. Not of myself (much) but of the creative writer in general. So let me tell you a story or four…

A young girl fresh out of high school is trying her hand at her second ever novel after having breezed through the first. On a tourist excursion, she happens upon an author doing a signing and, without knowing this author or anything about them, she buys the book and gets in line to have it signed. This is the first time she’s ever seen a real, published writer in person! When it’s finally her turn, she proffers the book and proudly informs the author that she’s a writer as well. The response is a careless scoff and a dry, “Don’t quit your day job.”

A new writer, against all odds, has managed to score a publishing deal with a small, independent publishing house. He proudly trumpets his new release to all and sundry, and all his friends and family (naturally) buy a copy. The writer is totally elated–until his close ones start telling him how “people don’t want to read that,” and he should “write about something else, like that other author that’s really popular right now.”

An aspiring writer still working on her very first novel, struggling and anxious for feedback, befriends other writers on social media. She is excited to be in such distinguished company! Not all of them are bestsellers, or even well known, but all of them have published books, either independently or through a house, and she is eager to have their input and approval. Her hopes, however, are crushed when one well-known author coldly brushes her off, having no interest in hearing about anything but their own work. The writer doesn’t give up, though, and when an opportunity presents itself, another author offering critique for a nominal fee, she leaps at the chance, only to be told her work is trash, and she will never get anywhere with her writing.

An author with several books under his belt happens to cross paths with a Hollywood producer, purely by accident. The producer seems eager to read his work, and requests several titles to read, after which they’ll sit down and discuss. Months go by, and when the producer finally sets the meeting, despite the pleasant nature of it, the news isn’t good. The work, the producer says, is “overwritten” and unsuitable for screen adaptation. Not only that, when the author excitedly shares his current project, a little side novella for a good friend, he is told he “shouldn’t be wasting his time writing for someone else.” He should, however, give serious consideration to writing screenplays, even though the author’s never written one and never wanted to, because, “that’s where the real money is.”

Write, don’t write, write this way, not that way, don’t write that, but definitely write the other… it seems everyone and their great-aunt Tilda have an opinion on what a writer should or shouldn’t do, and how to do it. This happens more than you would ever imagine–for some authors it happens on a weekly, even a daily basis. Maybe it’s always been this way, or maybe communication between writers and critics simply isn’t always clear and people don’t understand that when an author asks, “So what did you think?” they’re asking for an opinion on the actual book, not their writing career plan.

This got me thinking, and I posted a phrase on my Facebook profile, asking whether people thought it was inspirational, or discouraging. The phrase was:

Write as if no one will ever read it.

Here’s my interpretation of this phrase: You should write what you want, how you want, for whatever reason compels you to write it. That work should be yours, from the first sentence to the very last period (or ellipse, if you’re of a mind). You should write it without thinking of any outside audience or their opinions, because the moment you do, fear and doubt sets in, and they’ll steer that book better than your will ever could to places you never wanted it to go in the first place. So, “write as if no one will ever read it,” or simply write it for yourself first, and your readers second.

Not surprisingly, opinions varied from, “This is the best advice ever!” to “This is total crap.” Some drew a hard line in the sand, saying if you ever hope to publish, you damn well better think of your readers, or don’t publish at all. Others found it absolutely liberating, saying that’s how they’ve always done it, and how it should be done. Truth be told, I expected this. The phrase is deliberately vague to invite one’s own interpretation, and that interpretation will be very personal to each writer. I happen to be an in-your-face kind of writer. I absolutely adore my readers, and I’m more grateful for their support than I could ever say, but my books are my books, and I won’t let anyone take that from me by telling me what I should or shouldn’t do in or with them. Depending on how insistent someone is in voicing their opinions on that, I usually ignore, and have even been known to do the exact opposite of what they’d told me to do.

But that’s just me. It’s quite possibly the only real act of rebellion against the status quo I am capable of, since I’m a total coward in every other aspect of life. Hey, not everyone can be a hero…

To me, imagination is the purest kind of magic. What we create with it can be inspired, or tainted by external stimuli, but the force itself cannot. Writers and artists, even scientists on the bleeding edge of innovation are all wizards with tremendous powers of creation. We see the world differently than most everyone else, because we look for those things others miss, or would rather not see. We change the present by what we put out into the world, and inspire each other to create the future by doing so. How much of what exists today has been inspired by the works of creative geniuses of the past? How many times has a painting inspired a novel, or movie? How much of modern technology has come straight out of science fiction?

How different would our world be today if none of those things happened?

People say to emulate the greats, but those greats were great for a reason: they were original, created things that were unlike anything anyone else had done before. They defined a genre, or a method, or a tool, giving the rest of the world a blueprint to follow and coattails to ride. People say to keep it simple, but the best works in history still captivate us today precisely because of their inherent nuance and complexity. People say no one will ever like it, but trends change on a dime. What’s popular today might not be tomorrow. What readers scorn in a writer’s lifetime might be so celebrated it becomes required reading decades after his/her death.

People say a lot of things. Can’t stop them.

But you can choose what to listen to.

Until next time…

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5 thoughts on “…as if no one will ever read it

  1. JAMES F. O'NEIL

    Ah, I’m the first. I hope that your post gets out to many, many bloggers. Filled with good advice. One of my “favorite” incomprehensible authors is John Gardner. But he can write! Not well liked nor appreciated, “too cerebral.” So much for his fiction. Except for Grendel. Now what do they say? “As if no one will ever read it.” Thank you for the insights. “So what do you think?”

  2. claire

    Really liked your message. I agree “write as if no one will read it” I can understand why some would take an opposing view though.
    It reminded me of the mindset when majoring in fine art – the difference between an “artist” and a “mere illustrator” or “commercial artist”. The underlying principal being, you make more money pleasing the crowd but you’ll never produce a masterpiece.

    • Alianne

      I don’t know about that… I suppose it would depend on the art and artist. Technically, most of the great pieces of art of the Renaissance were commissions for the rich, or the church, if I’m not mistaken. It’s a little different for writers, since not many people “commission” a book, in the strictest sense. I do agree, though, that being commercial will tend to bring more steady income than striving for originality. Thanks for stopping by! =)

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