Lately I’ve been thinking about readers, and a writer’s proper relationship with them.
Actually, I’m not thinking about it. I’m entertaining several opposing ideas and trying unsuccessfully to mash them together. And I hope you can help.
Here are the ideas:
• Larry Ragan once wrote at loving length about the exquisite pleasure he felt upon having a stranger walk up and say he enjoyed an obscure magazine Larry edited. I think Larry saw this as the empirical evidence writers need every once in a while that we are having a larger effect on the world than we know.
• My dad and I had a conversation recently where we agreed it’s more rewarding to write for a small audience that understands you—in his case, readers of his hometown Middletown Journal, in my case corporate communicators—than a large one that doesn’t. This was born out by the conversation I sparked on Huffington Post last week, about Tiger Woods and Barack Obama. It’s nice to inspire comments from 30 strangers, I guess. But really, what do I care that someone named luvangelHussein330 says, “I think this article would have made better since to me if you compared him to African American politicians before him”? Often, the bigger the circulation of the publication you get published in, the lower the quality—and often, the quantity, too—of the reader response.
• And yet it does seem silly that so many good writers are devoting so much energy to blogs that give them the sphere of influence similar to that of the unpaid mayor of a one-horse town. And then there’s the miserly business that I know writers shouldn’t be in, of counting unique visitors and compulsively checking for comments. It all makes me admire Larry’s method, however pathetically serendipitous it was: Write, then go on about your business in the vague hope someone’s reading your stuff.
As I said, I can’t get these ideas to come together. Can you?
David Murray says
Why isn’t anybody commenting on this post?
Jeez Louise Murray! You only posted it yesterday afternoon! What was that comment about bloggers shouldn’t be “obssessively checking for comments”? Some of us have to WORK for a living, you know.
Anyway,here’s my take on this: Writers are in their heart of hearts people who want attention. Not necessarily huge, “on-stage, look at me!” public attention, but we want people to read, appreciate and respond, preferably positively, to our stuff. If we didn’t we’d all just write in diaries and stick them in drawers.
So I think its human, and perfectly acceptable to hope that people will see our stuff and respond to it so we know we’ve had an impact, given someone information they didn’t have before, or just made someone think about a topic because we wrote about it.
But when we become so focused on the reactions of our audiences to our writing, that we lose sight of our own inspiration and intention and love for writing well (which ideally should go beyond: “because I want someone to say nice things about my writing”) then we’ve just become ego-maniacs and will quickly lose any credibility or right to ask people to read our stuff.
As with so many other things, good writing involves balance. In our case I suggest the balance is between me and what I get out of my writing (sense of accomplishment, feeling that I’ve given someone info that could help them with something) and what others get from my writing (which I wouldn’t presume to state for them but hope is positive). If either end of the scales gets too heavy there’s a problem and we need to re-evaluate our motives.
David Murray says
All good points, Kristen, and moving toward a synthesis.
I guess what’s really new is that this online medium–my question about comments was a joke, to illustrate my point–we now have to do more to control ourselves and our greed for feedback.
Whereas, when we just wrote magazine articles and they went off into the ether, serendipity ruled the day.