Read and Respond: To a Reader

communityofwords

Welcome, reader. Though I don’t always acknowledge you, I know you are there, just a few of you, and I want to say how very happy I am that you are reading. You are a big and growing part of why I write.

Some days, it may not seem that way. I feel the same way. Some days, I have something I want to say, a beef to get off my chest, a secret I’ve been longing to confess. Sometimes, it may seem to you that I’m just writing for myself. I do that; it’s true.

But most of the time, when I write that way, I leave it in my journal, or don’t actually put it on paper or in a post at all. Usually, when I write in this space or any other space where I think people are reading, I at least think of you, acknowledge your existence to myself, if not to you.

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In her recent Tweetspeak Poetry article, “Ten Surprising Secrets to Make Your Book Go Viral,” Jennifer Dukes Lee talks about her recent successful book launch. She talks about things like her launch team and hiring a publicist. She made lists of everyone she knew and sent them notes; we would expect a first-time book author to do that kind of work. But her first bit of advice, the piece of advice that is always #1 as she reiterated in the comments section, is to “love your reader.”

“Ask yourself on every page of your manuscript, ‘How am I serving the reader here?’ You are, presumably, writing a book to entertain, engage, amuse, benefit, guide or enlighten a reader. Even if the book is about you, it isn’t only about you. It’s also – perhaps even primarily– about your reader, even if you never address him directly.”

But if you want to know the truth, I am not always sure who you are, why you come here, what you hope you will find.

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I recently wrote an essay for Curator Magazine based on Wallace Stegner’s advice to a young writer to ignore the reader. “Except for vaguely imagining him and hoping he is there, ignore [the reader], do not write what you think he would like. Write what you like,” Stegner wrote.

In some ways, his counsel relieved me for a few days. Since I don’t know who you are, keeping you in mind is sometimes confusing. I imagine what you want from me and just as I begin to write for you, I remember that there are many of you, at least those who tell me you read, and I know each one of you comes expecting something different. If I write with you in mind, will it muddy what I say, how I say it? So I try to stay true to me, to write only what I am thinking, feeling, reading, hoping. In other words, I write what I like, as Stegner suggests.

But often it feels lonely, isolating to write that way. I have a journal to write what only I like. When I come to this space, or other places where I know I will encounter readers, I need something more. I need the pressure of your presence to move me to write something more or better; I need the encouragement you offer to remind me why I come to this work day after day. And mostly, I need the connection with you in your suffering and your joys. When we rub against each other this way, when we find community in words, I become more human, more able to see the shadows of mystery and the echoes of redemption.

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Stegner knew there was more to understand about our readers, too. That’s why he pushed his former student to ask better questions about her her relationship with her writing and her audience.

“Why bother to make contact with kindred spirits you never see and may never hear from, who perhaps do not even exist except in your hopes?” Stegner asks the young writer. “Why spend ten years in an apprenticeship to fiction only to discover that this society so little values what you do that it won’t pay you a living wage for it?”

His answer: “You have nothing to gain and nothing to give except as you distill and purify ephemeral experience into quiet, searching, touching little stories like the one you have just finished, and so give your uncommon readers a chance to join you in the solidarity of pain and love and the vision of human possibility.”

That’s all I think either of us can hope for – you, my reader, and me, your writer: solidarity over these little stories I peck out.

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This morning, I read an article by a publisher who recently discovered that the goal of his publishing house is no longer to produce books. “It’s a tactic we use to achieve our actual goal.”

The thing they are really interested in is to connecting writers and readers. It’s that simple. And within that goal, book publishing actually diminishes in importance on the list of “literary experiences” they have been designing and creating.

“We think of our role as catalyst and connector driving various kinds of cultural and community engagement,” writes Chris Fischbach, publisher at Coffee House Press. “Sometimes that takes a solid and sellable form, and sometimes it’s performative, electronic, participatory, or even culinary. This is the kind of publishing we’re interested in, and what we think literature, and publishing, needs more of.”

I don’t know what that looks like for us, writer and reader, but it’s the kind of innovation that leaves me breathless and dreaming.

I love words. And to be honest, I love books, too. But I also like blog posts and online articles and print magazines and literary journals and PDF downloads and videos and podcasts and plays and movies. And if I love you, my reader, as I say I do, then connecting with you over words may not end up always looking like a book with a spine that you order from Amazon. And I’m ok with that.

As long as you are.

__________

WORD COUNT: 1028

Photo by Kate Ter Haar, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License; design by Charity Singleton Craig. 

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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.


  • Megan Willome ,

    Because I’ve met you in person, I know that your voice here is your real voice. The only thing missing is your laugh.

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      Charity Singleton Craig ,

      Megan – I wonder how my laugh might be described in words?

      Also, do you think that my writing voice might come across as inauthentic if someone didn’t know me? Part of this question about audience for me is the question as to whether my writing transcends a personal relationship. Would someone who doesn’t know me at all care about what I am writing? I’m not sure.

      Thanks for helping me process this!

    • Sandra Heska King ,

      I love books. The touch and feel kinds with the spines. But I like all kinds of literary experiences, too. And often because of those… I get to connect skin-to-skin. So I’m definitely okay with that.

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        Charity Singleton Craig ,

        Sandy – I think that’s the new thing that’s actually quite old about the way we are telling our stories to each other: we have so much more access as writers and readers that we can remove some of the distance that exists between the two. It’s not possible for every reader and writer to have a personal relationship – especially if the author is well known. But there are ways to make connections even with that larger audience that can feel very intimate, I believe.

      • Diana Trautwein ,

        I come here because I love your voice, because I want to know what you’re up to, what you’re wrestling with, what you’re experiencing. I think I fall somewhere between Jennifer and Stegner (what a pair, eh?). I think it’s always about both of us – writer and reader. If we spend all our time trying to figure out what the heck the reader ‘wants,’ then we just might lose our own unique voice, which is really why we’re here in the first place, right? But if we refuse to think about the reader at all, then we set ourselves up to become narcissistic navel-gazers, with nothing much to offer anyone. So, like almost everything else in life I can think of, I land . . . right smack in the middle.

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          Charity Singleton Craig ,

          Diana – This helps me so much. If I wanted to write to individual readers, I could send them a letter. And there’s part of me that thinks there’s something really important about doing that. But if I am writing to multiple people, than I do have to maintain some of that writerly distance that allows me to just write what I want – otherwise I would go crazy at the whims of a crowd. But yes, as you suggest, I think there’s a middle road. In fact, I think both Jennifer and Stegner would walk that road together quite easily.

        • Patricia @ Pollywog Creek ,

          I am definitely OK with that. I love books – I’m a bit of a book hoarder. But I’ve discovered that reading blogs enriches my life in ways that a book can’t. Books are very much a solitary form of communication – both for the writer and the reader. But blogs allow both writers and readers to span time and space, interact with each other and even develop into a micro community. Blogs are also a continuous source of inspiration and encouragement. I read a good book and I’m inspired, but I’m forgetful. Blogs encourage me like manna for the day – there will be more tomorrow and the next day….

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          Charity Singleton Craig ,

          Darlene – Thank you. I love this insight into your readership, but mostly I value our relationship as fellow writers and sisters in Christ.

        • SImplyDarlene ,

          Yes ma’am, I’m okay with that.

          I come here to find your kindness
          sincerity
          words –
          wisdom
          tales –
          inspiration
          guidance –
          along writerly
          relationship
          paths.