Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A (Now) Open Email to a Writer

The Zen folks -- whom I love to quote though I comprehend just the barest mote of the Wisdom they speak -- have a thing about "the front of the hand and the back of the hand."

By this I understand them to mean that you can't have one without the other.  There can be no hand at all without both. No front without a back.  No yes without no.  No up that doesn't come fully loaded with an equal and opposite amount of down.  Things are defined by what they are and by what they're not.

I'm going to stretch this not-particularly-malleable concept to say that writing is composed of two things.  (To be faithfully Zenful, I think that would probably be "the writing"and "the not writing."  And, trust me, I could write and not write a BOOK about the not writing.)  But for the purposes of this discussion, which is currently being held between me and myself, let's take some liberties and say that writing is comprised of 1) writing and 2) reading.  

Without readers, writing is the tree that falls in that sad forest where no one ever camps and the bears are all deaf.

In a pinch you can read your own stuff.  I do.  And I quote myself to me sometimes.  And I quote myself in my blog header because if you can't do that there, well, where can you?  But the question of readership is inherent in the practice of writing.  Why do it if no one reads it?  Why be the falling tree? 

A while ago I had another blog and that blog appeared not to be entertaining a stampede of readership.  I knew there were lurkers.  And some yeoman posters.  And I had nice comments via email.  But if you looked at Comments, there was, very often, just my writer friend, Vivian, and me.  Viv emailed to commiserate with me about that dearth of responders and I emailed her back about how I feel about writing into the void.

Now Viv has a blog of her own and it's gorgeous and smart and only just begun.  Commenting there today, I was reminded of her email and her sense (somewhat correct) that I suffered sometimes from not knowing whether anyone was reading anything on the blog.

Since, as  I've already admitted, I read myself to myself, I went back and looked at it again.  I stand now by what I said then.  So, I'm quoting me here. 

I wrote to Viv:

"This is the thing about writing and putting your writing out where people can see it.  (You know this, of course.)  It's like laying a sacrifice before God.  You don't know if God saw it.  You don't know if God liked it.  You don't know for sure if there is a God and whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing for you.

I think this is true, even for writers of bestsellers and Pulitzer Prize winners, although they have their own problems, on a plane somewhat higher than ours.

All that silence.  We need to love it.  We need to let it in.  It's full of voices we are not intended to hear.  The relationship between a writer and a reader is one of the most intimate relationships in the world and yet it's so often not made manifest for the participants.

It's not about us.  It's not about them.  It's about a kind of magical Us/Them entity that gets formed in the reading and dissolves when the reading is complete.

When the reading is complete, though, the writing still echoes.  I have whole segments of books that come to my mind, and when I remember them I bless the courage, the love, and the pure insanity of their writers.  But they never know.  I worship Stephen King.  He's my guy.  He will never know.  And when he wonders if he's any good or not, he won't have me to cheer him up.  And I know he wonders.  Know. It.

I write all the time.  Even when I'm driving. Especially when I'm driving.  (More dangerous than texting, no doubt.)  Writing is my way of organizing and interpreting my world, my life.  I can't help myself.  And when I have my wits about me and my guts in place I understand that we write for ourselves, but in the spirit of generosity.  Like an anonymous sacrificial gift to any scrap of humanity that ever goes, "Oh, yeah.  I read that.  It sucked."

And I have to say the rewards are all mine.  We writers get to make the fire.  And even if my fire goes out without warming anyone at all, Fire Maker is still the only job I want. 

I guess it's what Emily Dickinson meant when she said, "This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me."  I think about her all the time.  And of course, she never knew I would.  Look at Stieg Larsson.  Writing and writing and dying before his books sold more than any others in 2008.  What's that all about?  He got to make the fire.  Period.

So, light some fires today, Viv."

And to you -- writers and readers out there, who knows where, who knows even if -- please remember that without you, the most human of enterprises can't exist.  It exists because of us.

Because we write.  Because we read.  Because we keep on keeping on.

For you who want a new, fun blog to read (after you get done reading every single &^%#$ post on this one, of course...just kidding) visit Viv at Wild Turtle Crossing.  The writing is wild and wonderful and the turtles more beautiful than you could ever imagine turtles could be:



  1. Goosebumps! And thank you for the most generous traffic signal to new blog down the road. You can post on Turtle, anytime. Just let me know.

  2. Ha Ha I'm lurking! Viv, what's your blog's handle? Lovely post, Annie!

  3. Lurker! Hello,

    I've been looking for you.

    Your comment just popped up, as I took another look at this page. You can find a longish blog, posted Sept. 27 on Artists, Wayfarers, and mostly about our dear Ann.

    To answer your question, Wild Turtle Crossing is just down the road:
    Thanks for asking . . . actually I'm hoping/ waiting to read more of your stuff, wherever it lives.