September 16, 2013

You know what’s missing in this whole Fans vs. Creators thing…

My own dumbass opinions.

But seriously, I wouldn’t weigh into a conversation unless I felt like I had something good to say, and this is something I pretty devoutly believe in regards to the way I interact with my audience:

Basically, I try not to.

Well, that’s not totally true. I have this blog, and I have a twitter feed, and I do interviews and, in a very fundamental way, writing something is a very direct way of interacting with an audience.

But what I seriously, fervently believe is that the reading experience is a profoundly individualistic, private, and hermetic experience: it is not a relationship between writer and reader, but rather a relationship between reader and text – or perhaps the text is a lens or mirror through which the reader views and forms a relationship with themselves.

So while I have some problems with the piece that started this fans vs. creators debate, I generally agree that the worst thing I can do, as a writer, is intrude, elbowing my way into that very private and very delicate reading experience, and muddying up something that, ideally, is terribly pure.

I did this for you, for you to read. I didn’t do this for me. And when you discuss something I made, what you are discussing is what you read, but not – and I really cannot stress this enough – it is not what I wrote.

Though illogical, I have found this is quite true.

For example, there was one instance where I was at an event and a reader told me in great detail about a scene I had written that she loved, going on and on about the various aspects – and all I could think is, “What the hell is she talking about? I don’t remember writing that…

I had, of course. But she had read it in a manner so inconceivable to me – not bad inconceivable, just something I wouldn’t had thought of – that upon recounting it, it sounded like a totally different book.

The reading experience is 70% work done by the reader, not the writer, and when you bring your own perspective and state of mind to my stuff, you are by default changing it – giving it nuance, color, beauties,  associations, problems, and conundrums I could never hope to. The human mind is a wonderfully, tantalizingly strange thing, and it is endlessly more complicated than any book could ever be. My job is to give you fuel, and get out of your way.

So I don’t want to be included in discussions of my work. Ideally, my opinion is moot, irrelevant. I cannot tell you if your opinion of me or what I wrote was wrong, even if I feel it obviously, obviously is: what you read is what you read, and I shouldn’t have any say in that.

People think writers have power, but ideally, I think it’s quite the opposite, or should be. We aren’t even part of the equation. What you read is infinitely more powerful than what I wrote.

(Writers should know this. We’ve all been in critique groups where someone – maybe us, ourselves – tries to tell a critic that, “Well, I know you thought you saw a problem here, but what you didn’t get was that I was trying to do blah blah blahditty blah blah. So everything you thought I did wrong was actually totally, completely right!” And what needs to be said then is, “Whatever you were trying, I didn’t know about it, and this did not work for me.” And that should be that.)

In addition, having the writer in the room while their work is being discussed is super uncomfortable. I liken it to parents tagging along on their child’s honeymoon, and sharing a bed in the same room: they did their part, now they need to get the hell away. When they had a panel on American Elsewhere at Readercon, I was relieved that I couldn’t attend. I wouldn’t want to even be near that, let alone in the same room. I’d have spent my time sweating in the bar.

This is my own personal take, my own policy. Others may disagree: today, when fervent communities can form in any niche, and access is more or less boundless, some audiences might want to be deeply, intimately involved with the writers and creators they adore. They might even want to see give and take in the actual text, in what the creator creates, art and artist formed by the will of the audience.

Me? That creeps the everliving shit out of me, and I’d never want to have such a weirdo cult of personality, but hey, different strokes for different folks. One of the things I like about my twitter feed is that it actually denies access: it’s purely ridiculous jokes, most very stupid, so those looking to glean insight into my creative process will probably be stonewalled. Someone pointed out that I was, in a way, fondly trolling my own fans with my twitter feed – and while that’s not totally right, it’s not completely wrong, either.

Some might say that a work can be improved by knowing the author, that an author’s story or attitude can make the work better, but that doesn’t make much sense to me. It sounds like prejudice, like assuming my mom’s opinion of my work would be unbiased. And moreso, what if I were to die? What if there wasn’t any “me” to know? Would my writing lose power because I wasn’t there? If so, it must not have been very good writing in the first place.

I want you to like my book because of what it was, not because of who I am. And if I thought readers were reading me only because they “knew” me or liked me, rather than because I wrote a good book, I’d probably be severely depressed.

I consider myself a very reluctant participant in the inevitable publicity game, and sometimes when I’m getting ready in the morning, with last night’s sleep still hanging on my back, I wistfully fantasize about being successful enough where I can be a total recluse, and no longer have to opt into a program where I, Robert The Writer, Robert The Total Stranger, am put on display to pitch and sell a book – a work not intended for me, meant for relationship I will never be a part of, nor should I be.