I was at a gathering recently and a friend and I got into a discussion about—education, I think it was. And I had a point to make. It was an important point and I had every intention of making it even though I believed—well, knew, really—this friend disagreed with the point. In fact, I wanted to make this point to this friend precisely because he disagreed with it. So I made my point, and loudly, so as not to misunderstood. But about midway through this point-making I began actually hearing myself, and observing this friend’s reaction, and I thought, “Drop it. He isn’t your audience.”
I am all for the “exchange of ideas,” but I cannot say that in all my career of idea exchanging that I have ever flipped someone’s opinion. After all, I am not about to flip mine. Over time, what I believe evolves, and it has sometimes happened that this evolution eventually results in something very different, but this sort of change is almost always gradual.
It’s a useful thing for writers to remember. We are all looking for our readers. That is, those people Richard Bach described as our “intellectual family.” Not that we should preach to the choir, but rather we our putting our work and our ideas out there for those people who are looking for them. You can lose a lot of hair, and sleep, and weight fretting over all the people in the world who don’t agree with you, or who don’t read what you read, or read what you write. Let them be.
Everyone who argues is arguing with themselves. The foil we choose for our debate is some shadow version of ourselves, against whom we are testing what it is we have come to believe. If we could just get this other person to admit we are right then we would believe it ourselves. And so too we might summon editors or agents in our imagination to point out what our work is not. And these shadow agents and editors are right. Your work is always not something. But those shadows are not your readers. Your readers are those people interested in what your work is.