Monday, 23 January 2012

Are you a writer's writer or a readers writer . . . ?

This is something I have only just become aware of in my own reading. That thing where you no longer read as a reader - no longer read free from textual analysis. No longer read for fun. And God, I miss it. But since taking my writing seriously, analysing the bejesus out of it, analysing the writing of others, I cannot help reading almost anything without unconsciously critiquing the bloody thing.

But here's what I've noticed. Readers - non-writers - don't seem to do that. Where I see plot-holes, poor word choice, or poor sentence structure, they'll just skip all that and say, 'Well, that was a good book. Enjoyed that.'

It appears to me a reader is far more forgiving than a fellow writer, and indeed, more forgiving than ourselves.

So here's the thing. Are we, as writers, too hard on each other? Are we seeking a perfection in our writing, adhering to a set of writerly rules, the reader simply doesn't care about?

Do we needlessly pull ourselves - and each other - to pieces on writing forums, workshops, etc. tackling that rogue word, agonisin over that difficult sentence, that gaping plot hole only we can see when all the reader wants is a good story?

Are we trying to be a writer's writer or a readers writer?

Mmm . . .


  1. I don’t really engage with the social networking sites for writers, for the reasons you cite. I pull my own work to bits on such a frequent basis that I don’t really need the help, thanyew very much. (I do have a couple of trusted confidant’s that I hand the work to, but usually six months after the fact. When I’ve re-read it, know it holds true to my intent and am slightly disengaged from the process.)

    My own conversation experience came about a decade ago, when my English literature tutor informed me that we were “no longer reading books, but studying them.” I’ve always found that to be a helpful distinction.

    I think it’s just a matter of different remits. If you read a novel or short story as a reader --there’s no just about, if there was no audience for prose none of us could even entertain the notion of a career in the arts.—your looking for one thing, if you’re reading as a writer –essentially reading a colleague’s work, perhaps looking for simpatico sensibilities or even a kind of mentorship—you’re looking for another.

  2. you need a 'g' at the end of 'agonisin'....


    1. Spent so long leaving the 'g' off words, Stu, just sort of can't shake it. A bit like when Mollie, Charlie, and Summer, when they each started school, all struggled with their spelling of words beginning with 'th' because they though they started with an 'f' :)

  3. The reading/studying thing is a really good distinction, Gordon. I think where I've tipped over into the dark side is all this bloody Open University stuff I've been doing the last couple of years. Analysing every full stop and word meaning just sort of becomes so intense, it's hard to break the habit. Not to mention some of the often unbelievably bitter and competitive writing forums out there. Must say, though, I've met some great friends on those places too.

    And like you say, mate, one or two trusted compadres is a fine thing to have.

    As for writing to an audience - which like you say, without which it'd all be pretty pointless, I think of the likes of Dan Brown and Stepanie Meyer, and James Patterson perhaps and their bland but huge success. And I suppose in the other corner there is the position of simply writing the best thing you can, regardless of a prospective audience. The 'build it and they will come' sort of scenario.

    But I suppose, to some degree, we all have to have in mind a prospective audience. Or do we?

    Cheers for popping by, mate.

    Hope you're keeping well.


  4. I don’t know about writing for audiances.

    I’m kind of the school of thorght that says that the more specific something is, the better. For example, I love the TV series ‘Treme’, which is about New Orleans recovering from Katrina and fighting to preserve the culture of that city, which is predominantly illustrated by music and food.

    Now, I’m a white guy from the north of England and that’s a show about music, food and African-American culture set in a city that’s been largely considered a curiosity for most of my life (in the interests of full disclosure: I’ve always loved the idea of New Orleans –I am noted for being music obsessed, after all.) but on paper, that show has no appeal for me. For me, it’s down to the fact that the people who are making that show know what they’re talking about.

    But then, Treme is an astonishing critical success that would almost certainly be cancelled by any other TV network. (Same thing with a lot of the ‘classic’ TV shows. Homicide was cancelled multiple times; The Wire was practically cancelled twice. My point being: no one seems to have found the way to fuse critically engaging to commercially successful as of yet.)

    And yes, of course I know I’ve discussed TV here, but its ‘novelistic TV’ and it’s not like Art vs. Commerce isn’t a well-known problem among us artists.

    1. So, I suppose here, Gordon, are you talking about niche markets? Genre fiction? My sort of world that, mate. I love the specificity comment. My take on it links more with what you say about the Treme programme. In my view, whether it is a book or a film, there has to be feelings. It is the feelings the reader/viewer connects with. And feelings are universal. Learn to portay genuine feelings, and you're half way there, I reckon. The reader/viewer is affected, even unconsciously. Affect a reader/viewer, and the writer/film maker has done their job. That's what I reckon.

  5. I'd much rather a writer agonised over their words (and again over whether they were agonising too much) than just didn't give a shit about what they were writing or who they were writing for. There's far too much of the latter around as it is.

    1. I'm with you there, Steve. It's like getting as close to the truth of the word as you can. Uncovering and uncovering, until the true word, the only word there can be for that particular instance, reveals itself.

      And within the agony, therein lies the learning.

  6. I occasionally run creative writing classes, and I'm all, avoid this, and that, oh and that as well cos its shite. And the class attendees will say, oh, but him, him and her get away with it, why can't I?

    My view is that we write the best book we possibly can, knowing we'll never get it absolutely right (write)but we'll carry on trying because professional pride won't let us do otherwise.

    In terms of writing for readers or writers, I think the HUGE publication successes are bought by those people who only buy 2/3 books a year, who don't experiment, go with the rest of the mob and want to know that (in their limited experience) the book won't disappoint. They might have a vague sense of dissatisfaction over what they are reading, but just go with it because they are loving the story and they don't want to really think that they have wasted their bi-annual "investment".

    I feel there are a lot of discerning readers out there who are looking for the high standards we are trying to set. There's just less of them overall. Sadly.

  7. 'Write the best book we can' - that's it in a nutshell, Michael. Write the best book we can at that point in our life we are at. Be true. Be faithful to our essence, and the best we can do will flow out onto the page. There's a lovely quote by Emerson on writing. He says:

    “The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when your arrows are spent.”

    I love that. Give your all. Everything. All the time. If we do that, the readers will come along that need to read what we've written. It's a sort of attraction process, one of those collective unconscious things, I reckon.