What Makes Writing Real

Literature exists when it is read.
–Stanley Fish

I commend those who can take pleasure and satisfaction from sitting alone at a keyboard, producing words. If they believe the value of writing lies entirely in the physical act of writing, I will not say them nay. I ask only that they extend me the same consideration.

I compare writing to music. Yes, there is some enjoyment that comes from crafting a piece of music, but ask any musician (any successful one, at least) and they will tell you that composition is what they have to endure to get to the real point of music: performance. Either hearing it performed by others, or performing it yourself, the joy you experience comes when the music becomes real, and that only happens when it lives and breathes in the air. The process of creating music isn’t music, the actual performed piece that can only happen when you are done creating it is when it is real. Until then, it is just potential music, in the same way that a recipe is potential food.

That’s how I feel about writing. Others say to just enjoy the creation, but to me, it is what has been created that matters. My book only exists when someone is reading it. And the more readers, the larger the “audience,” the greater the pleasure. A musician can certainly play to a single listener, but in most cases, he’d rather play to a packed house. So with me and my book. I want it to bring enjoyment to many. Yes, I have had friends read it, and their response has been gratifying. But that’s only a few people. And they are friends. I want it read by strangers, people who don’t know me and never will. Then, if they like it, it’s because they like my book, not because they like me. And if they pass it on to others, it will be because my book is good, not because they are doing me a favor.

That’s what it’s all about. Does it somehow diminish my friends that I am so concerned about the approbation of strangers? I hope not. I don’t mean it that way. But rare is the composer like Mozart, who could enjoy the music that played in his head. And he died penniless. Rarer still is the performer like Andy Kaufmann, who did entire standup routines to the wall in his bedroom because he was doing it for himself, and actually didn’t care about his audience, to the extent that he went out of his way to alienate them. We might admire his twisted genius, but few want to emulate it.

Not everyone sees writing that way. Certainly the reader-response theories put forward by Stanley Fish and others have their detractors in academia. Okay. There’s room for different motivations. I ask only that people don’t tell me that I should just write because I “love it,” and not take it hard if I don’t get published. Even though I know they mean well, they must understand that I love it when someone reads my book. Until then, it doesn’t exist.

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