Consider the Reader
by Laura Munson
I’ve always felt that in order for writing to be pure, the writer must not consider the reader. It’s like high school. Be yourself no matter what the mean girls or the cute boys are going to say about it. Full self-expression is the key to the authentic life, especially the writing life, regardless of your critics. In other words, don’t make nice nice for nobody. Write what you have to write. With abandon. Full frontal. Even if it means your mother will blush.
I don’t altogether believe that anymore. After many years of working at this craft and not having books published, I finally have had the trajectory met and that means I get to hear a lot about how my work has landed in laps and hearts. So from fan mail, I have learned a critical component of this thing called the writing life: people read because they want to know that they’re not alone. It’s the writer’s job to be just a bit braver than the reader. To face the dark tunnel and take the torch and say, “Hold my hand. I’m not sure where we’re going, but I’m willing to try to get us there.” If the reader says, “no,” the trajectory will never be met. So you’ve got to show them that they can trust you from the very first sentence. There is a silent pact that the reader and writer make. We’re in this together. I will tell you a story. Come with me. We’ll get somewhere, I promise. And in return, the pages get dog-eared and marked up with pens and coffee and fall into bathtubs and get thrown across the room and hopefully read to the end. And the highest compliment of all: “Thank you. I needed that.” In all my years of writing books, I’ve never really thought of why a person might need something I’ve written. I’ve never really thought of the writing life as a form of community service. Now I do. It’s not just about me. It’s about You and me.
So I’m back at the place of torch and tunnel, working on another book. Sure, there’s the possibility that no one will publish this book, but what if they do? What if lots of people read it in lots of countries? What if lots of people make that pact with me? Don’t I owe them at least the outstretched hand? Just that extra dose of bravery to look into the darkness and believe we’ll find our way? Maybe I know something the reader needs to learn. Maybe I don’t. But the writer’s job is in many ways simply willingness. Which takes guts. Or maybe just a fool’s faith. Or a little of both.
Which is to say that a writer must grant herself an initial authority. And that ain’t easy when you hear the odds about getting published. Or when you let in the mean girl voices: Who do you think you are, anyway? Who do you think you are, mining your life for money, or making up whole towns and families and houses and expecting them to matter to anyone but you? Who do you think you are, Indiana Jones?
And still you take that torch. Because you have to. Not just that you think you have something to say, but you actually can’t not. So…you might as well do it with your head held high. Fake it ‘til you make it.
I think that’s what makes a good book: authority. People want to be led. I know I do, especially in a book. I can feel it the moment my eyes scroll the first sentence. I’m in good hands. They may be very different hands than my own, but they are agile and adept and they seem to say, hold on tight. I’ve got something to show you.
So to the writers out there: breathe deep, grab that torch, take us somewhere we need to go, or that you at least need to go, and do it like only you can do it. Your readers want you to.
Laura Munson is something of a publishing phenomenon. After writing fourteen novels for which she could not find a publisher, she wrote an article that crashed the New York Times’s website. Forty-eight hours later she had a publishing contract for her memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is. Her paperback will be published in April and she will be touring the country doing events. For her schedule please visit Events: lauramunson.com