What is the Writer’s Responsibility?

So, we as “literary” writers don’t often like the idea of pandering to the audience. It’s the sort of “The text will find its audience” idea. Still, does the writer have any responsibilities to the reader? And if so, what?

Charmed, I’m sure. In talking to a writer friend of mine, the word “charm” or “charming” came up a great deal. Is it the responsibility of the author to charm the reader? To entrance them? To pull them into your created universe without them knowing it?

But what does it mean to charm? I suppose there are a number of ways, but it seems to me that humor and wit are the easiest methods. Voice, in this case, feels very important for drawing in the audience … but I think it’s more than that.

Shut up, you pretentious windbag! I know, for me, I find a pretentious voice extremely annoying. It’s so often intellectual posturing, and posturing must by its very nature be disingenuous. It’s not just pretentious, but it’s sometimes with strange choices. For example, when American writers who have always lived in America refer to the TV as the “tele” or an apartment as a “flat” or instead of “taking a vacation,” a writer says “goes on holiday.”

This sort of posturing, this awareness of how the author looks in the eyes of the reader (as opposed to being an invisible and deistic creator), grates on me. The minute I say, “Yes, yes, I’m very impressed,” is when I put down the book. When I am impressed with the writer and the attention-grabbing sentences or lines, I am pulled from that universe I want so desperately to fall into, and I am incapable (or struggle with) enjoying or appreciating the content.

I am very aware that you are writing. Ok, so, I am getting off track some, but the point is, what do we owe the reader? Maybe more pointedly, what should we give the reader? In talking with other writers of late, I’ve come to the conclusion that the great spoonful of sugar, the great lubricant for content, for philosophies, for ideas, is humility. This struck me when we talked about it because I had a friend of mine recently say of my writing, “it’s for smart readers,” and that caught me off guard.

I don’t think it’s because I drop ten-cent words at every chance or write whole books without the letter “e” or write lines in iambic pentameter. I think what he was (perhaps unwittingly) saying to me was that I did not approach stories with enough humility. And when I think of the great writers I admire, perhaps the thickest chain that ties them together is humility, simplicity, and earnestness in the writing.

I earnestly want you to get off the internet. The idea of “a text will find its audience” or that we oughtn’t “pander” to audiences with short-attention spans is a pretty arrogant way of looking at the world. It’s easy to get caught up in our own artistic communities, like some strange church where we pat each other on the back and congratulate each other for how advanced, how empathetic, how deep we all are.

I dunno. I think I need to think more about this humility thing. I want to be that, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do it … suggestions?

About Adam Nannini

The greatest writer of his generation ... which isn't saying much.
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One Response to What is the Writer’s Responsibility?

  1. SW says:

    I think there’s a tricky balance between the haughty “the text will find its audience” and the (perhaps insecure) need to deliver whatever it is anybody wants. While an erudite, inaccessible text won’t magically conjure up readers, there is something to be said for having a selective audience. I don’t think it’s arrogant to recognize that not every book will please every reader. That’s not an indictment of the book or the reader; it’s just a reality. Maybe that’s the value of Stephen King’s “ideal reader”—it forces you to consider your audience, in a very grounded way, without asking you to try to accommodate all tastes and preferences.

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