writers and readers

manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

Why Do I Write (and Publish)?

There is private writing (diaries, lists, things not to forget, unvarnished thoughts) and public writing (fiction, essays, treatises, histories, etc.). Private writing is not meant to be read by anyone else. Public writing is intended to be read by others, which is why it’s published. That’s what I’m talking about here.

Why do I write with intent to publish?

A few weeks ago, I heard a composer (Jim Hopson, who has written a concerto for alphorn) say that a musical score is just a set of instructions for performers. It’s the performance that matters, not the marks on paper. Then I wondered if the text of a novel can be thought of as a set of instructions for a reader’s brain to make a mind-movie. In which case it’s the reading that matters.

Except the author can’t assume the work will be read.

So why do I want to create such a thing? Especially as an obscure indie author.

Here is one answer, from author Chuck Litka, in a a comment on Mark Paxon’s June 20th WSW post “Is It Vanity?”:

“Putting aside why we write in the first place, for me publishing can be summed up in one word; completion. When I make a painting, it is complete in and of itself. It doesn’t have to be displayed, published, or sold to be a painting. A manuscript, however, remains a manuscript until it is published and made available to readers as a story or a book. If it was written to be read by strangers, it is an unfinished and unrealized project until it is published. I like finishing projects.”

Certainly, no one needs to write in order to fill a shortage of books or stories. There isn’t one; quite the contrary. But is there an eternal need for new stories? Or old ones freshly rendered. It could be argued either way, but for sure we have an eternal need to create story.

I write to satisfy a need to create my own version of a story. Whether anyone reads it is a secondary matter, although after I’ve expended the time and effort to bring the thing into existence and polish it, making it available for others to read is the logical completion of the process. Knowing that someone has read it is a validation of my efforts.

I’ve realized that as I write I am conscious of a ghostly shape in the corner, a potential reader, a receptive mind hovering on the edge of my consciousness. I don’t envision this entity in any kind of detail, but it’s always there.

Another musician I heard recently talking about what it’s like to return to live performances after the pandemic said the audience closes the feedback loop. Perhaps readers are to writers what an audience is to performers.

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The question is: would I write even if I knew no one would ever read the written work? If that ghostly reader vanished?

Answer: I would write, but I might not publish. My writing would then be private. Lacking an incentive to make it readable, its quality would probably decline. It would become obscure and idiosyncratic.

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But we don’t know that no one will ever read our published writing, any more than we know that someone will. There is always hope, however threadbare it may be. For posthumous success, perhaps? And when an idea surges forth and insists on being rendered into writing, the ghostly reader shows up as well.

All right, fellow writers, what about you? Why do you write and publish? Do you envision a reader for your writing? Would you continue to write and publish even if your works were unread?

This is the second of two posts. The first one is: “Why Do I Read?”