Writers and Readers

I’ve been pretty busy with school and work, but I’m going to try to do some more writing for Altered Focus. I’ll continue with some of my family stories and topics — and I’ll continue to take requests! — but I think that I will also do some bits on my own personal faith and spirituality.

If so, it will be the most personal of the topics (for me) that I have written on and I realize that some people will have a variety of reactions to it. Thinking about that got me to wonder, why do it at all? Why do writers expose themselves to, and impose themselves on, others? And why do readers bother taking the time and energy to emotionally and intellectually engage what they are exposed to?

I write (and I think this is true of most writers) for my own reasons. I do it to explore and clarify my own unresolved (and sometimes unresolvable) ideas, convictions, emotions, and memories. For me, writing detangles the elements of life and weaves them into new and meaningful patterns. When those patterns find analogues in other people’s lives, my writing resonates with them and makes it available, engaging, and meaningful — and I find that deeply, deeply satifying.

However, those analogues aren’t under a writer’s control. You never know, once you write something, what others will find in or make of it. Sometimes it’s not what you expected or wanted. Nor, at least from my experience, do you really know what is going to come out on the page. I nearly always end up writing something different than what I started to write about. That’s what’s happened here: I started out writing about spirituality, and ended up writing about writing. Unresolved things are rarely simple or straightforward — they demand touching on, delving into, and dealing with other things before you can get to them.

In any case, writing isn’t a good occupation for anyone who needs control over, or shielding from, their inner life. There’s something brutally honest and vulnerable about letting those words go, and then coming to terms — emotionally and artistically — with whatever happens with them.

Because of that, many people will admit that it requires an enormous amount of courage to write. And so it does. But what many people will not admit is that it takes an even greater amount of discipline, practice, and perseverance to write well. Much of writing is like Michelangelo’s approach to sculpture — hewing out a raw block of material is the easiest part. Seeing something beautiful within that block takes a special kind of vision, but it requires character to allow it to take shape as one doggedly and persistently saws, grinds, and polishes away everything except that which is essential to what is trapped within the stone. Being willing to do that with one’s raw text is the difference between people who want to be, and people who are, writers.

But being a writer takes at least a bit of other elements of personality: exhibitionism that needs attention, insecurity that needs validation, or delusions of grandeur that need recognition. I confess to having elements of all three. I’m a very private person … until I have something to share.

Which brings me to something else that a writer needs: a reader.

If writers are essentially exhibitionists, readers are essentially voyeurs. Some people read to explore beyond their boundaries and to listen to the siren’s song, and others read to reinforce their boundaries and to muffle anything that seems to beckon from beyond. But in any case, readers need writers, and writers need readers.

We’re symbiotic.

Or parasitic.

Or codependent.

Or, perhaps, we’re all three. But in any case, if you are one of my readers, I do appreciate it. Thanks for keeping me alive.