Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Monday, November 23, 2009

We (Writers) Are Transmitters

I cringe whenever I hear an author say, "I don't write for an audience; I write for myself."

Well, of course she writes for herself. So does probably every other writer, including me. Writing keeps us sane.  But I have three teenage girls, and when they pick up a book, that story isn't just the author's anymore, it belongs to my daughter; it's in her head and how she responds to it could change a lot about the way she thinks.

If you're published, you're writing for an audience.
If other people read your stuff, you're writing for an audience.
Anyone who takes their manuscript out of its drawer and hands it off to someone else has written for an audience.

And there's a certain amount of responsibility that comes with that, like it or not.

Words have power to change lives, and that's something you've got to take into account when your work goes out into the world. As John Gardner points out in The Art of Fiction, somebody who reads your book may be desperate, or suicidal, or otherwise in trouble, and your book may be the tipper, one way or the other. Especially when you write for young people that's true, because kids actually listen, unlike adults.

Your words are power; what are you going to do with that?

There's this poem by D.H. Lawrence that's been in my head for about twenty years. I've removed one politically incorrect line, so nobody rises up in outrage and threatens to beat me with a stick, but when read it, I can't help thinking about writing, since that's what I spend my hours doing.

We Are Transmitters

As we live, we are transmitters of life.
And when we fail to transmit life, life fails to flow through us.

That is part of the mystery of sex, it is a flow onwards...

And if, as we work, we can transmit life into our work,
life, still more life, rushes into us to compensate, to be ready
and we ripple with life through the days.

Even if it is a woman making an apple dumpling, or a man a stool,
if life goes into the pudding, good is the pudding,
good is the stool,
content is the woman, with fresh life rippling in to her,
content is the man.

Give, and it shall be given unto you
is still the truth about life.
But giving life is not so easy.
It doesn't mean handing it out to some mean fool, or letting the living dead eat you up.
It means kindling the life-quality where it was not,
even if it's only in the whiteness of a washed pocket-handkerchief.

Even it's only a book I wrote.

Writing is a happy thing for me. It's fun. I do it for myself, because I like it, and some of my work will never see the light of day, because it really is just mine. But once I consider letting it leave my hands, D.H. Lawrence and John Gardner start talking in my head, and that changes everything.

I hope they talk to you, too.


  1. Whenever I've said something akin to "writing for myself", I refer to my first draft, really. I write a story the way I'd like it first. Then I have to consider honesty, perception, reception, and meaning. Those all make up subsequent drafts and then when it is ready, I will check it again because you're right, we ARE transmitters. I want my message to be something helpful or good. I want to tip the scales in the right direction. Excellent post, Elena.

  2. This is awesome Elena.

    I definitely write for an audience and am hyper-aware of how my words may or may not touch my readers. It's a struggle, then, because sometimes I write like I expect my readers to be psychic, to be able to read into my story what I intended but failed to write in.

    I usually think this makes me conceted or something--that I write for other people. Like, what nerve I have to expect anyone to want to read my stuff ... EVER!

    But your post has helped me to feel better about my approach and my attitude. Thank you!

  3. I don't mean to say a book should bash people over the head with a message, either, only that the story be true, and that every writer keep in mind the target audience. I really kind of hate books with a clear moral or message. Everyone brings their own life experiences to the reading, so hopefully a true book has as many messages as readers.


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