Excuse the ungrammatical post title. "For Whom Do We Write?" just sounds too formal on my first day back after a glorious 3-day weekend.
One of the events Mighty Reader and I attended during the American Independence Day Festivities was a traditional barbeque, featuring grilled meats and malted beverages and potato salad and non-traditional karaoke. All of this is by the way. The part of the 4th of July barbeque that interests me right now is the argument about politics.
The substance of the argument is unimportant (I don't think we actually even got there, truth to tell). What happened is that one person spent about half an hour carefully building up his position as self-appointed expert on politics and spinning flawed syllogisms to establish himself as the only informed person in the room so that the rest of us had--by his reasoning--no other role than to sit back and listen to his lecture and if we disagreed, we were admitting--by his reasoning--that we were idiots. You know the type, I'm sure. Next time, I'm going to hit him with something heavy.
Anyway, this was pretty much no fun if you were not the "expert" in the room and it was nothing like a conversation and the only point of the exercise was to let one person massage his self esteem. It was all about the speaker, and there was nothing, really, there for the listener.
I worry sometimes that a lot of our writing is serving that same basic purpose: we write for/about ourselves, wondering how much of us is getting on the page, how much of our secrets we inadvertantly give away to readers, how well our writing reflects our personal voice and points of view and how well our personal ethos comes across and if we'll be viewed as immoral and really, ultimately, we suffer along under the burdensome question of What Our Art Means To Us.
I just don't get it.
Admittedly, every once in a while I wonder what my writing says about me that I'm not seeing. But I don't wonder that often. I don't wonder if I have found my personal voice. I don't wonder if the real me is getting over on the page. I don't. Because I don't care.
I care about good stories. I care about good writing. I care, dear writers, about the reader's experience much more than I care about my own experience. I am alarmed when I see people blogging about the writer's experience as if that's the most important part of it. Because it's not. If I go see a movie, I want to not be aware of the director at all. I don't want to know about his experience making the film. I want the film itself. I want Steven Spielberg or whomever to care about my experience as a moviegoer.
This is not meant to sound all crankypants and it is still true that the writing life is quirky and interesting and unlike the reading life and should be discussed because, you know, the writing life is hard and often discouraging. But I think it's too easy to forget that we are supposed to be writing stories that will be read by others, hopefully lots of others who don't know us personally and never will and we'll be read long after our deaths and the important thing is supposed to be the text--the novel or the story--that we leave behind for these readers.
Speaking as a reader, I love you and the work you do, but when I read your book I want to forget about you. Which is to say, stop worrying about your Personal Expression. Stop worrying about your Voice. Stop worrying about being Individual or Unique or True to Yourself or whatever. Just stop. Stop worrying about it, stop blogging about it, stop talking about it. Just write well, for a reader you will never know. That's the job.