Readering

Readering
Portrait of Georges-Daniel de Monfried by Victor Segalen, 1909
"I'm feeling as if I might be a writer now."

Michael Maccoby, American psychoanalyst and leadership consultant, defined a leader as anyone with followers. Others shave pigs, insisting that some observable skills really must be present to qualify as a real leader, but I take Maccoby's side in this small controversy. It seems to me, if to nobody else, that we define many occupations in just this back-handed way. We judge singers by the size of the audiences they attract and Presidents, initially by the number of votes they get, neither by any even rough assessment of their skill. Some of the most popular recording artists torture my ears, but they're successful based upon their audience, measured by their number of listeners. This principle seems to hold true even beyond the performing arts. What's a doctor without patients? Even a librarian seems to require patrons to qualify as a true professional. Professionalism's not simply what one knows or does, but related to recognitions. Does anyone follow you? Does anyone ever listen when you sing?

Writing's no different.
While few writers ever manage to top any best seller list, the iconic image of a solitary typist living in a cold-water garrett elicits more of the impression of an aspiring, wanna-be writer than of an accomplished one. It's become fashionable for even best selling writers to retire to a cabin somewhere when they write, but these have an agent and a publisher and a track-record of attracting and satisfying readers. Writing's not simply a matter of scribbling on a page, but also seems to demand some sort of entourage. A writer has readers, willing witnesses to his otherwise unseen and therefore questionable bear placidly shitting in the woods. If nobody's there to witness, like a so-called leader without followers, one might reasonably question whether the self-proclaimed writer's much of a writer at all.

A writer's apprenticeship involves more isolation than adulation, for few will ever read their early works, which might not quite qualify as works but practice, and perhaps even play. The early years amount to experiments, for the actual practice holds few universal patterns. It seems to start as an untested instinct, perhaps an intuition, unlikely to lead to any but notional fruition. It's more folly than purpose at first. With persistence, some coherence might emerge, but one without very much reassurance, for there really are no reliable patterns to follow. Some start emulating the habits of others who proved successful, but since they are not their exemplar, they grow to follow fading tail lights more than blaze their own trail. A few attempts to publish might provide some reassurance, but uncertainty reigns for the longest time, and a nagging disbelief in emergent personal practice, which hardly seems like a qualified artistic practice, haunts. Imposter's syndrome without any obvious imposter present often emerges and a gnawing disbelief reigns, at least until some readers appear.

Readers mostly remain anonymous. The writer never knows very many of them, for they rarely drop a note to appreciate an author for his work. They read the book as if they owned it or something, as if it belonged to them rather than to the creator. The reader peers out the author's window, enjoying the view, then almost never says even a distant "Thank you!" as they leave the premises to move on to view the next panorama. A writer might bump into a few readers over the course of a career, a curious state of affairs for a profession perhaps most defined by the presence of those very readers, who remain largely invisible to the author. A writer's audience remains essentially an imaginary one from the author's experience, a few effusive appreciative ones, but only ever a few. A favorable review or two might prove to reassure, but the publisher will hold a better idea of readership than the author ever will, and, still, the writer's very presence depends upon readers. Writers have readers.

Preparing a manuscript for publication involves more complications than simply finishing the writing and editing the result. Some reading's required, too, and the writer's disqualified from serving as his own reader in the same way that a leader's unable to follow him self. Some independent entity, one unpoisoned by the writing effort, must read the work to sort of road test it for cogency. The author wonders if the work actually qualifies as a book. Sure, it contains the requisite number of pages and the prose passes muster, but can it hold an actual reader's attention? Does it hold together without the writer's access to the jillion backstories behind its creation? Could it stand on its own out there on a library shelf or a bookstore display? There's really no way to definitively determine the answers to any of these questions without Readering the work beforehand, before submitting it to an agent or a publisher, before proceeding any further. And an editor's not needed then, and neither is a reviewer. The author needs a reader, at least one, a few more if anyone agrees to volunteer. Not until the Readering begins does the writer ever appear.

I'm nearing the end of a Readering now, and I can report that it somehow transformed me. I've grown accustomed to the daily posting cycle, and I watch rapt each morning as the list of my daily readers accumulates, the usual gang accommodated. I know who my readers are when I'm posting fewer than a thousand words, but not when the volume's sixty times that size, when the work demands a much longer attention span, a genuine investment, when the scribbler's actually written something filling a whole volume. What then? A few dear friends stood up to accept my invitation. Then I began to understand writing. It's another conversation, perhaps started in isolation, but extending far beyond the keyboard wrapped in early morning shadows. It also stands in the full light of day, the "finished" work removed from beneath the bushel basket and out of shadowy gestation. The work as well as the writer take on a whole new life then, the writer hosting readers into a conversation to learn what it feels like to read the work. This step just seems necessary for completion because writers have readers the way leaders have followers. I'm feeling as if I might be a writer now.
____________________________________________________________________________________
Friday's here again already, so I'll recap my writing week on my way out:

This week caught be warily watching, perhaps paranoid at what I was observing around me.

I began the week with a piece I called
FalseEquivalence, critiquing the casual assertions so common to election seasons, concluding that nothing's very often equivalent to anything else and that we might hold an ethical responsibility to make more meaningful distinctions for ourselves.

I next sensed the end of the summer season with
ShiftIn, noting that calendars tend to misrepresent such changes. Three weeks before the end of summer, the end of summer starts showing up most morning. Last night's weather report predicted perhaps some snow here Monday night.

My most popular piece this week described my relationship with my
Hop(e) vine.

I next questioned a seemingly increasingly common assertion about certain rights having been
GodGiven, suggesting that God might have more important work to do than hang around bestowing rights that people might conveniently give or deny to themselves.

I then considered writing about willful ignorance, also a seemingly frequent companion of every election season, but decided to wonder what its opposite might entail in
WillfulWisdom.

I watched myself can two big boxes of tomatoes and added to my larder of questions about formal process definitions in
Measuremont, concluding that recipes are simply not to be trusted.

I ended my writing week thinking about rightness and wrongness and adopting the notion of incompleteness as a surrogate for wrongness in
FlatEarths. Things are not always what they appear to be, regardless of how convincing a sensory experience seems.

I leave this writing week enormously reassured. My readers have been sharing their experiences reading my work, a window into a world I could only previously fantasize about. I could say that I'm out as a writer now, no longer merely typing through shadowy pre-dawn hours, but working a much larger room. I'm expecting
TheGoldenBlurb to emerge any day now. Thank you most emphatically and sincerely for following along here.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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