If I were asked to replace all the holy commandments of writing with one it would be this; love thy reader.
I know. I know. I say to you - the first draft is for you, to get to know the story, and you need a gap between first and second to become the reader and see the art and entertainment in your work, but what if....what if... you began with your reader in mind.
I will begin to write my new novel in September with back to school vim and vigour and I hope you will join me with the Ninety Day Novel® process, but right now I am working between first chapter and plot and back again to find the 'liveliness', and when I feel drab I know it's because I haven't cracked the characters. They're not real. So I take my time now to get them alive and kicking, warts and all. They need to be loveable; well, some of them. Sure, they can behave badly, but for the most part those with which I am concerned must be redeemable.
Now set that old testament aside.
You see, I think if before I set sail, I have very much in mind the reader I may be able to avoid the usual sins.
I see a lot of manuscripts. They're usually very good indeed; both in story and prose. If there's a blemish, it's where my brilliant writer has a slight downer on the people of this day and age, a.k.a your reader.
You may not do this. It will curdle your writing. You are not allowed to look down or think badly of anyone who picks up your book. If you can think well of them, you will write a book with a big heart. And you should.
So, take the following as a manual or a mediation. It's probably accurate, even though it's invented. You see, if you set out to write for readers, you will have readers, and you will have thousands of them.
The collective body of readers is your reader. Let me introduce you to your reader. Your reader knows much, much more than you. This is the reader with a thousand lifetimes of experience.
Your reader has been widowed, given birth, lost a child. Your reader has travelled off the beaten trail. Your reader has played sport to a professional standard. Your reader has had cancer. Your reader has read many more books than you. You reader has been in love. Your reader has slept with someone famous. Your reader's mother is dying. Your reader has hit someone. Your reader wept yesterday. Your reader is no longer in love. Your reader turns their phone off from time to time. Your reader is a good cook. Your reader is afraid of heights. Your reader has spent Christmas alone. Your reader was on the operating table last year. Your reader is hungover. Your reader has friends that mean a great deal to them.
Your reader has picked up your book as an act of trust and hope. Your reader would like to escape from being your reader for half an hour.
All of these things are true for some of your readers some of the time. But only one thing is true for each of them all of the time; he or she is holding your book.
Now, how do you want to talk to them? What do you want to show them? Who will they be today when they read your book, where will they be, why will they pick it up again tomorrow?
If you can consider this, perhaps as a meditation before you write, I don't think you will go too far wrong.
'Watch what happens today. If we get into a fish see exactly what it is that everyone does. If you get a kick out of it while he is jumping remember back until you see exactly what the action was that gave you the emotion. Whether it was the rising of the line from the water and the way it tightened like a fiddle string until drops started from it, or the way he smashed and threw water when he jumped. Remember what the noises were and what was said. Find what gave you the emotion; what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling that you had. That’s a five finger exercise.'
“I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone."
“I will read long books and the journals of dead writers. I will feel closer to them than I ever felt to people I used to know before I withdrew from the world. It will be sweet and cool this friendship of mine with dead poets, for I won’t have to touch them or answer their questions. They will talk to me and not expect me to answer. And I’ll get sleepy listening to their voices explaining the mysteries to me. I’ll fall asleep with the book still in my fingers, and it will rain.”
“We are all sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life.”
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for?
“Reading brings us unknown friends.”
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
“I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.”
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.”
If you really want to feel tender about this, watch 'The Lives of Others'. My favourite movie of all time.
What it means to be a reader.
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