Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Contract Between the Reader and The Writer

Apologies for this post’s lateness. My computer decided that the new, non-Microsoft programs I uploaded were evil and crashed the entire system – as Microsoft does. They don’t want you to have something that actually works on the computer, so if they haven’t made it, they try to destroy it and force you to keep shelling out money for more of their programs which don’t work.

Enough of that.

Today’s musing is about the contract between the Reader and the Writer. Each partner in this endeavor has a specific role, and it is vitally important that both fulfill those roles for a successful experience.

It is the Writer’s job to tell a good story in an engaging fashion.

It is the Reader’s job to approach the piece with an open mind and be ready to view the world in a different way while taking the journey with the writer. The reader does not have to change his/her life after reading a book, although, in the best of circumstances, a good book is life changing.

But that’s the contract.

Unfortunately, in this increasingly celebrity-crazed culture, far too many readers believe that writers owe them more than a good story. They expect the writer (or actor or musician or artist) to drop everything and reel with gratitude when the fan shows up at a bad time.

That’s incorrect.

Example: Poet and novelist May Sarton loved and needed to be the center of attention. Yet, in order to create, she also needed long stretches of absolute solitude.

Because her work touched people’s souls – the way a good writer’s work is supposed to – people would track her down and knock on her door. They expected her to be thrilled that they interrupted her, because, after all, they were Fans. And she Knew Them.

Honey, she didn’t know you. She understood how to make the personal universal and the universal personal. She is a creative person who was able to reach out to you. Gratitude does not mean interrupting her and destroying her creative process.

What non-writers need to understand is that writing is not like folding laundry. If you interrupt a writer at work, chances are that you have shattered, destroyed, and somehow otherwise mutilated what might have been the writer’s best work. It won’t come back. We’ll never know, will we? Some will scoff and say that if it’s really that good, you’ll remember it. That’s not true. The Muse is jealous and inspiration is fleeting.

In order to create a body of work and make a living, a writer must develop craft in order to have something on which to fall back when the inspiration is difficult to find. But the writer must also have stretches of uninterrupted creation time – even if that means sitting in a chair staring into space and it doesn’t look like work.

In my next home, I will commission a plaque to place beside the doorbell that reads, “If you interrupt this writer at work without an appointment, and it is not an emergency, do not expect courtesy.”

I am not the catch-all for the neighborhood whenever someone doesn’t feel like dealing with something. In an emergency, I’ll put someone’s life before the writing without resentment. Otherwise . . .

If you admire a writer, feel free to drop that person a note or an email. Writers do love to get mail. And writers do appreciate their fans. Talk to them at book signings or other appearances. If you spot one in a restaurant or on the street, take a minute and really observe the person – does the person seem as though they’re open to conversation? Or withdrawn and dealing with something else? Use the same sensitivity in approaching the writer as the writer showed in approaching the work which touched you so deeply.

But DON’T show up knocking on the door and expect to be entertained, just because you “happened to pass through town today.”

You may have just destroyed the writer’s creative child and income for the next five years. Is that a responsibility and a legacy you wish?


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