This is a great article in the NY Times by Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours. His main point is about the experience of having his book translated into another language and how ultimately all writing is an act of translation, since what we write is always an approximation of what he calls the "cathedral of fire" we initially construct in our heads. All very interesting and well worth a read, but there was one section in particular that grabbed me.
"I teach writing, and one of the first questions I ask my students every semester is, who are you writing for? The answer, 9 times out of 10, is that they write for themselves. I tell them that I understand — that I go home every night, make an elaborate cake and eat it all by myself. By which I mean that cakes, and books, are meant to be presented to others. And further, that books (unlike cakes) are deep, elaborate interactions between writers and readers, albeit separated by time and space."
Honestly, I think I would have answered that question he posed his students much like they did. I write for myself. Self expression is the driving force behind what I do. I think it's a popular answer to the question. And not an altogether bad one. The reality is that writing is tough and uncertain so if you're not ultimately writing for yourself, for your satisfaction, then it's going to be a heck of a hard road.
And yet that image of a cake you make to eat all by yourself kind of stops me in my tracks. If you acknowledge that you're making a cake to be enjoyed by others, you have to ask how that changes what kind of cake you make and how you make it.
More than maybe any other genre, YA authors know their audience. Teens and young adults. We know they're meant to be our readers, but I think it's important to step back regularly and ask ourselves how are we serving them? Why, in a world of TV and movies and video games and myriad online distractions, should they give us their time? How do we justify what we're doing?
Me? I guess I want to show kids that the imaginative act of reading is just as fun and, at it's best, a far more immersive entertainment experience than any other. For me that's the foundation. I want to entertain.
I'm also just foolish enough to hope that I can communicate something deeper than that as well. Maybe something that will lighten their load a little bit. Something about hope and how they're not alone along with an understanding of how hard the process of becoming who you're meant to be really is.
Anyway, this idea isn't groundbreaking or anything, but I think it's a good one to come back to regularly.
What do you guys think?
Who are you writing for and how does that change what you write? How do you balance your need for self expression with your audience's needs?
The Long Walk Home
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011
Find me at jeff-hirsch.com and @jeff_hirsch