Writing is a Relationship

Naomi at work on The Mission

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “‘Tis the good reader that makes the good book.” That’s an eloquent way to voice the belief that writers and readers are in relationship with each other, from the first page to the last.

As a writer, I am initiating the conversation I have with my readers, and I am therefore responsible for the quality of the communication, indeed for the lion’s share of it, and that’s why I spend far more time rewriting than writing. If we were face to face, I could confirm an understanding or correct its lack with a nod or a shake of my head. In a book I have only the words.

I aim to find the best word or metaphor and, possibly, the most succinct. I want the time a reader devotes to my work to be well spent. I may choose to squander my own time but not yours. My vocabulary may not be the simplest; we are, after all, adults, not children. Details will be relevant and significant. I won’t use the same words to describe my characters. I’ll make sure each chapter shows something new, either about the plot or the characters involved in it. I’ll try to teach something not known before.

I will write what I know to be true and real. I respect the intelligence of my readers and won’t cover the same ground three times: by describing what is going to happen, what is happening, and what did happen. I also want to keep them engaged by using vocabulary that is interesting, appropriate, and varied. Sometimes in fiction incidents occur at a faster rate than in life, understanding comes quicker, healing is more rapid. In those cases I aim to create the “willing suspense of disbelief” that Samuel Taylor Coleridge identified.

I promise to do my homework. I will spend more time in research, possibly even over-researching, rather than trying to make do with less information. Besides, research is fun and may lead to your characters taking different paths than previously anticipated.

The most difficult aspect of writing is achieving the right balance between involvement and detachment, subjectivity and objectivity. Authors who have experienced to a degree what their characters experience also know how to help them move forward. A novel is not, however, an outlet for venting personal feelings however therapeutic that may be. I pledge to guard against either indifference or sentimentality.

A good relationship: the reason that readers buy successive novels from the same author. Relationships matter. They nourish, guide, and challenge us. Reading a good novel is an experience that may help us grow, an embrace that may sustain, a song, a handshake, a hug.

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