Writers and Readers

“No two persons ever read the same book.”–Edmund Wilson

I’m continually surprised by what readers say about my novels.  When I’m writing a book, I balance many things in my head, but somewhere along the line–at 60 percent, maybe–I know what I’m trying to say and how I’m going to say it.  The final version is my best effort–after constant editing and months of revisions–to do just that.  And then, when I have the happy opportunity to talk to a reader or read a review, they never mention the idea I was trying to get across.

To paraphrase Wilson, “Are my readers reading what I’m writing?”  It doesn’t happen all the time, but I find myself disappointed when it does.  Is it a fault in me?  Have I left something undone?  And then I consider those who do understand (never completely–I believe it’s impossible for a writer to convey 100 percent of his meaning to someone else) and seek other answers.

I’ve said before that a good writer expects to have good readers.  By that I mean, a reader who remembers, considers and, when she encounters ambiguity, appreciates it rather than throwing up her hands at the writer’s refusal to clarify.  But that’s my definition–other writers have other definitions.  Many of their books are plot-driven, others put characters (think romance) above all, and they look for readers who like that kind of book.

So now when I encounter a reader who likes a plot point that I included only because I had to, or a minor character with little impact on story or idea, I conclude he is another writer’s reader who had the good taste to try one of my books.  I go back to work, determined to produce something that might entice him again, and I plot to separate him from his regular writer.  I think it’s called “expanding your audience.”

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