The reader needs writers, to read, but does the writer need the reader, to write. And for whom does the writer write? Does the writer have her audience in mind as she places words on the page, or does she write only for herself?
Why does the writer write?
A few weeks ago, one of my sons asked me why I bird-watch (or engage in birding, as it is currently called). I was going to answer; “because the birds entertain me”. But there is so much more to it than that. Watching the birds gather at our yellow cylinder feeder hanging three feet from my back porch distracts me from my own messy world of checking off completed items from my daily to do lists.
But, it goes even further.
Not only do my backyard birds provide me with a temporary escape from real life, but they also provide a feeling of peaceful enchantment- a syncing with nature, with God, and with my inner self. Their birdsongs are magical, musical masterpieces -a symphony with no maestro to complicate what they are born to do, only their natural heartfelt desire to celebrate life, and yes, perhaps also to entertain us in the process. While I provide them with nourishment and a place to gather, as they share meals or snacks, they provide me with their propensity to Iive their lives to the fullest. We have a sort of relationship- the birds and I, a give and take, a mutual respect, like any other relationship should have.
In Amy Jones’s November/December 2019 interview with Amor Towles, author of A Gentleman in Moscow, Towles discusses the old mindset that “true artists” never take into consideration their audience and how he feels that is a crazy notion. After all, he says, Dickens was thinking about his audience, Tolstoy was thinking about his audience, Dostoyevsky was thinking about his audience, as was Mozart, Beethoven and Leonardo da Vinci. And then, on the other hand, Towles says there is some truth to it. When Towles writes his first draft he doesn’t think of whether he can sell it, whether it will be popular, what the rules of writing are, what his peers are doing or what the great history of writers have done. He does believe it is his duty to create a work of fiction which meets the standards of what a reader deserves (not merely what will sell). He calls it a covenant between the writer and the reader, to which he feels obligated.
Alluding to this idea of the relationship between the reader and the writer, Connie Schultz writes in her September/ October 2020 Writers Digest article; A different kind of story; “If we want to matter but don’t know where to start, we can begin there in the daily mess of life. There are the seeds of everyone’s story, no matter how differently they grow. Every time we write about life in meaningful ways, we close the distance between us and the readers we want to reach.” In other words, the writer will unravel the tight, tangled ball of life’s everyday disappointments, fears, dysfunction and pain, all of which touches each of us at some point, to create something brand new that provides purpose, resolution or sense for our readers, and for ourselves.
As in all relationships, the partnership between the writer and the reader is forged together by a common interest, a shared idea or feeling that resonates with both parties. The boys abandoned by the neglectful father, the girl who didn’t feel she belonged anywhere, the brother addicted to pain killers, the alcoholic mother who died before her children got to know her or understand her pain, the refugee who left the only home he ever knew to risk everything for his family’s safety, the soldier who couldn’t get past his memories, the family torn apart by anger and misunderstanding. The list goes on and on. The writer identifies and defines the pain in each of these stories and the reader feels less isolated knowing she is not alone.
In Tim Denning’s May 2019 Writing Cooperative article, he says; the reason I write is because people can feel so very alone and creative endeavors such as writing can help people feel less isolated. Pursuits in life that are born from our creativity help humanity feel connected and that is the best cure to the human condition known as isolation.
Through the pages of story, poetry and other literary prose, the reader and the writer become one. They come together in a partnership, a relationship built upon mutual hope, trust, and gratitude. And this, in the end, is where we all should be- connected as one. Giving back each time we take. Forging relationships, friendships, and acceptance wherever we go. Turning the perception of differences into the reality of oneness.
And so, the relationship between the reader and the writer is more important than it appears on the surface. Like the birds singing from the branches of the trees outside my window, doing what comes naturally, while simultaneously sharing this self discovery with their audience, the writer writes for herself because it is what she was born to do. She writes to find her own song, to make sense of something that interests, bothers or gratifies her, while the reader reaps the benefit of her creativity and passion- ultimately providing the writer with more inspiration to keep writing. And so, it goes back and forth, the give and take of the relationship..
Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing down the bones, said in her 2016 thirtieth anniversary edition preface; “ Many people who want to write are unconsciously seeking peace, a coming together, an acknowledgement of our happiness or an examination of what is broken, hoping to embrace, and bring our suffering to wholeness.” Moreover, in her 2004 second copy edition preface she talks about Zen and loving life; “Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate.”
This answers to the audience for whom the writer writes, but it also speaks to the reader on the other side of the relationship seesaw, balancing the scale because she too longs to meet herself and become intimate, which is why she reads – to become one with the writer’s thoughts and ideas. “Once you connect with your mind,” Goldberg said, “ you are who you are and you’re free.”
Like the bird and her song, who delves inside herself to do what feels right and good, and natural, while inadvertently drawing her spectator in, the writer too will do what feels right and good, and natural.
Further adding to this idea of dual inner submission and unity, Goldberg refers to four of Jack Kerouac’s essentials for prose, at the end of her second edition preface;
“Accept loss forever,
Be submissive to everything, open, listening,
No fear of shame in the dignity of your experience, language and knowledge, and
Be in love with your life.
And so, my answer to why the writer writes and for whom she writes, is that she writes for herself, and for her reader. She writes for all of us. She writes to build bridges between each of us, to close the gaps between our differences and to help clean up our self -made, complicated and unnecessary messes of life. Like the connection between my birds and their natural, joyful appreciation of life, and those of us stirred by their songs, the relationship between the writer-creator and the reader- beholder and the forging of two minds and hearts into one, is the very thing that will guide us toward complete oneness and unity, as it strengthens each of our own partnerships with ourselves, with others, with God, and ultimately- with life.
And that is why writers write.