Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Counterpoint: Readers are sometimes great

In my last post, I wrote about how readers can be terrible. They can, and this has some ramifications for writers. First, you have to realize how easily you can lose a reader. That doesn't mean you've got to always spoon-feed or hit them with pap or otherwise try to compete with less demanding forms of entertainment. That's likely to end badly for you: cat videos will always be more cat-video than you can ever achieve, and you'll just earn contempt for trying. Fiction isn't something people read primarily because they have to. They do it for enjoyment, and people enjoy being challenged a little bit. Just don't take that willingness to take on a challenge for granted, or push it beyond its natural limits.

Secondly, you can maybe sometime give yourself a break as a writer if you think you wrote something great and you got feedback that perplexes you. It's possible that your reader was distracted, in a weird mood, or just isn't a very good reader. That doesn't mean you can just dismiss all advice you don't want to hear because the guy's a knucklehead anyway. But it's a factor worth considering.

All that truth about readers often being ass hats remembered, though, sometimes readers really are pretty great. I mentioned two stories I gave up on early on for bad reasons. I eventually finished both stories. It just took me a while to work up to them. Readers are people, which means they will often (most of the time?) confound you with their thickness, but they'll also knock you over with their perceptiveness. They'll make you feel grateful for the loving, giving way their read your stuff.

I mention this because I don't think it's helpful when actually writing to think too much about the asshattery of readers. If you worry too much about it, you'll never write. Instead, picture a really good reader (maybe you), and write to that person. Don't exhaust your good reader more than you would someone you really like, unless you happen to like being exhausted. But write with confidence and certainty that your work will find a good reader if you accomplish your goal in execution.

Considering what twats readers can be is something you should only do after you've written and gotten feedback either pre or post-publication. Consider well what you hear from a reader, and be willing to be humble enough to make changes.  But also take everything with skepticism. A lot of people just comment to have something to say. Many people weren't paying much attention when they read. (Obviously, I think almost everyone in my college workshops fits this description. They were just overworked, and probably more interested in getting, rather than giving, good feedback.)

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