Grieving the Reader’s Experience

Let me be clear on one thing: I love literature.  I really, really do.  That’s why I’m a writer!

But being a writer has also drastically changed my reading experience.

In the words of Billy Collins, “Readers read great work and feel appreciative.  Writers read great work and feel a burning jealousy.”

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I just wanted to share that– in some ways– I grieve the true reader’s experience.  It’s becoming more and more rare that I can just fully take in a great book with an open, generous heart.  There is this little flame of envy that licks all over my body, and while I think it’s a bit uncharitable, it also both reminds me that I’m a writer and fuels my writing.

Though I am terribly grateful that I’m a writer down to my bones, sometimes I do long for those golden moments of childhood when I could just embrace a book with nothing but love.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love books– with a deep, passionate, fiery love– but there is usually envy in that matchhead too.  Envy and analysis: how did the author do that?  Can I do that?  What if I were to …

Sometimes I miss it.  That’s all I wanted to say.

Había una vez... (Once upon a time) by Carolina Pratto

Había una vez… (Once upon a time) by Carolina Pratto

on the connection between reader and writer

“The best work is done with the heart breaking, or overflowing.”
Mignon McLaughlin, journalist and author (1913-1983)

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Robert Frost, poet (1874-1963)

These quotes, which I have long loved, are moving from head knowledge to reality in my life.  Allow me to explain.

Draft one of Truest was written ferociously in a period of six months.  It was a typical first draft– write the easy parts, skim over (or completely ignore) the hard parts– and that is fine with me.  I am the kind of person who needs to write about seventeen drafts before it’s ready for the public.  I had a few friends read it, most of whom enjoyed it and made important recommendations (a special thank you to Kristin Luehr, who changed the whole course of the novel).

The next draft was hard.  It absolutely, completely broke my heart.  Ask my roommate.  For a period of about a week I was despondent, and for about three days in a row, I could not stop weeping.  Desiree would ask about my day, and I would just start to sob and say to her, “I don’t know what to do for them [Silas and West, my characters].  My heart is broken in two, and I’m stuck.  I don’t know how to fix the problem that I have gotten them into.”

I was depressed, grieving, and at a loss for what to do next.  My friend Kristin swept in again (she is a hero!) and reminded me that my characters lived in a world where Christ existed.  After that, the story’s ending started to fall into place.

When I had friends read this draft, most of them reported that they cried.  I will have to investigate further, but my expectation is that since my own heart was torn in two as I wrote, all that pain was able to flow out of it freely and unhindered and land directly in the pages of my story.

So yes, McLaughlin.  Yes, Frost.  I believe you now.  I really do.