Thursday, August 03, 2006

Never Alone: Why I love Wyrdsmiths

THEY always tell you that writing is a solitary business. Frankly, I think that's a load of bull.

I have never written alone.

Yeah, sure, I'm sitting here at my desk without someone physically looking over my shoulder, but I know you're there... watching me... critiquing me... forming opinions about who I am by what I say and how I say it.

You're always with me.

Plus, there's also all those voices in my head (how can I be alone with all those people populating my mind??) – but that's for another post.

My point is that writing fiction for publication (whether it's in traditional print, electronic, or just written with the INTENTION of selling one day) is one of the most public things a person can do. Check out any book on Amazon.com, and it's difficult not to notice the presumption of a dialogue between the author's intent and the reader's response. Readers feel (and I think rightly so) that they had a right to having certain expectations met.

One of the things that having a writers' group has done for me is to hone my sense of what those expectations might be in my particular work.

I just got my revision letter from Anne, my editor at Berkley, for DEAD SEXY. I'm one of those oddball writers who actually enjoys the revision process. In fact, I would probably guess that if I had to chose between creating from scratch and revising something already written, I'd (often!) pick the later. (There are times, of course, when the rush of creating is intense.)

Anyway, even though Wyrdsmiths helped me dodge the bullets of "writing myself into a corner," plot holes, flat dialogue, and having a protagonist act out of character -- Anne’s final comments are written specifically with the audience in mind. She even says at one point (to paraphrase) "I think you ought to change this, because romance readers expect that."

There are some people, I'm sure, who probably think that by writing with reader's expectations in mind, I'm somehow cheapening my art. I disagree. The point of writing is to be read. If you disregard the reader, who are you writing to? I think good writers carefully consider their audience and write to them.

Wyrdsmiths are always the first to catch things that help clarify and strengthen my intent. If I use an unfamiliar concept or if I skim through a scene because I feel like it's self-explanatory (to me!), they always force me to slow down and take a look at what I say. Even after all the books I've written, I still am learning about how to best communicate my thoughts to readers. Stephen King in his book on writing talks about writing as time-travel telepathy. I've always felt that’s true, and the way I try to achieve perfect mind-to-mind harmony is by first filtering my words through the hive mind... er, I mean, the collection of minds that is my writers' group.

In other words, if they get it, you will.

1 comment:

Sean M. Murphy said...

Aww... we love you too, Tate.

In truth, though, Tate's point is bound up in something she noted here: the reader is an implicit part of writing. I'm not talking about writing in a journal or a diary--obviously, there are some conceptual dilemmas around who the potential audience is there (and believe me, people who think that they can't and/or don't function as the audience to their own work are deluding themselves). And while I'm not going to make the out-and-out statement that no stories exist that were written purely on the aesthetic value of the tale, I do highly question the purity of that perception on the part of the writer; the author never, while writing, considered how best to communicate a particular point? Whether to include a certain concept? How to frame a moment, an interaction? Even the most obscure, ambiguous, potential reader is still an audience, and as soon as that concept is admitted, the waters are muddied as to how deeply impacted the writing of the story might be. Even the word aesthetic (concerning or characterized by an appreciation of beauty or good taste) implies an audience: by definition, an appreciation demands an appreciator, hence an audience.

Wyrdsmiths is simultaneously a group of writers and a group of readers, each engaging in similar struggles and helped along by those around us. It is no accident that the name of the group falls so close to "wordsmiths"; we each are trying to find our way through the language to present a picture to our proposed readers, and having others to vett our work along the way is exceedingly valuable.

Not to mention that the society is invariably pleasant.