Saturday, February 19, 2011

What do you want to read?

I was reading The Globe and Mail the other day, and I came across an interesting piece. I generally read almost everything I can get my hands on, but I don't always go out of my way to acquire something like The Globe and Mail. If it's in front of me, though, I will read it.

This particular column, by a journalist I know nothing about, commenting on an author I've never heard of, is maybe not something the average person would read. I'm including the link, however, and ask that you read the column. The presentation of the column itself is a bit messy and unattractive (surely The Globe and Mail could clean that up), but please, indulge me:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/russell-smith/kid-lit-authors-get-over-yourselves-amis-has-a-point/article1910155/

All done? Okay, so, my initial reaction, and perhaps yours as well, was quite visceral. I'm not a writer of children's stories, but dude, those comments were really quite offensive. And on the first read through, following that initial gut reaction, I could completely understand how the children's authors of Britain (as referred to) could also, and more legitimately, feel insulted and offended.

Until I got to this sentence: For whom does one write?

And then, further along, this: The best advice to writers is never to wonder for a second for whom one writes, to write only the book that one wants to read.

This is the crux upon which I have always based my own writing. From the moment I decided to pick up my Pilot pen and apply it to that first yellow legal pad, it was, and ever has been, my intention to write the book(s) I want to read. There is no other compelling reason for me to write. I love to read, and there are certain books I devour hungrily, certain books I savour, certain books which, like the promise of a good meal which has been prepared poorly, do not live up to their potential, and other books which one glance shows they are not worth even sampling. There are books I can't get into, books I won't get into, and books I can't wait to get into.

I have noted that the books I devour, the ones I hunger for, others also devour and hunger for. I'm sure that seems an almost fatuous and redundant comment; the thing is, if I write what I want to read, and what I want to read others do as well...well, you get the point.

Every writer is different, a unique creature with a unique voice (or so one hopes). I ended up re-reading this column, and afterward felt that the point made was hugely relevant. Had I read the original piece, by the author I'd never heard of, I may have reacted in the same manner as those (particularly sensitive) children's lit authors. But I didn't, on both points, and quite frankly, I'm happy not to have. Not because their feelings were irrational or misplaced, but because mine might have been.

I think it's important to know your audience, yes. But I think it's more important to know why you write. And if you understand your motivation, you should have no need to defend it, yourself, or your work. No need whatsoever.

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