Recently, Wendy, a new blog friend, tagged me for a meme called "Self-Contract for Writers." Though I haven't done many memes lately, I think this one had obvious appeal. Whether we state it or not, every writer has such a contract--not only with herself, but with her readers. The contract is unspoken, but essential: You buy my book or read my story or article or blog post, and this is what I promise in return.
I always cringe when writers say they write for themselves. To me, that's a bit like saying you make love for yourself. Undoubtedly, that happens, too, but you don't hear anyone touting it in the personal ads: SM looking to please no one but myself seeks attractive SFs. (Okay, it might be a subtext in some of them, but no one is going to come out and say it.)
Writers, on the other hand, often proclaim it as a badge of honor. I don't care what critics or readers say because you see, I write for myself. How noble!
The worst part? I completely understand the impulse! Get battered with enough rejections, the dismissive review of a critic who just doesn't "get" your book, and anyone's likely to put up a wall. The problem is that the wall not only separates the writer from the pain of being misunderstood or rejected; it separates her from her own best writing: the work that is created to entertain, inspire and provoke thought.
My view, if you want to write for yourself, that's terrific. Get yourself a diary like the little locked notebooks I carried around for years. I learned a lot through the mountains of journals I filled, most of which have been blessedly trashed. I learned about myself and what's more, I learned about the craft of stringing words together. That's what writing for yourself is all about, and there's no question of its value.
However, once you ask real readers to invest their money--or even more significantly, their time in the product of your imagination, you've entered into an unspoken deal with your potential readers, and you ought to do your best to fulfill it.
Does this mean that my book or anyone else's will satisfy everyone? Absolutely not, and if I made that my aim, I'd be even crazier than I already am. What it does mean is that when I ask you to read my work, I'm making a certain commitment to you as a reader. Here it is:
1. I think a good novel should be both entertaining and illuminating. I will do my best to write one.
2. Real life is often the tedious, boring stuff which Thoreau identified when he spoke of the "lives of quiet desperation." It is also startling, dramatic, and "over the top". I will do my best to eliminate the former from my prose, and emphasize the heightened experience that changes a character or a flesh and blood human being forever.
3. I believe that when people read fiction they want to FEEL and THINK and EXPERIENCE. I will do my best to create characters who fully engage the mind and heart.
4. The ultimate drama--both in life and in fiction whether classic or pulp--is the clash of good and evil. In my work, those forces will tangle powerfully. Evil will win many significant battles--just as it does in life, but it will not take the victory. Why? Because in my deepest beliefs and visions and hopes hopes, it doesn't. And what does a writer really have to share, if not her hope?
Now for the THIRD DAY BOOK CLUB pick for March 3rd: The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig
Why? Because it's a Booksense Pick, and it sounds truly intriguing. And what's more, it sounds as if it has the thing that has made me most love my favorite books: a strong voice. It also sounds as if it hits the magic combination: an entertaining story and characters that resonate.
*Starred Review* "What happens when you die? Well, if you're murdered, you become a ghost, as 11-year-old Philip learns when he sees his dead father for the first time at the man's wake. Things start to get sticky when Dad then asks Philip to kill his killer, the boy's oily uncle, Alan, who has designs on both Mum and the family pub, the Castle and Falcon. Uncle Alan, it seems, wants to become king of the Castle in his late brother's stead. Poor bewildered, indecisive Philip. To kill or not to kill--that is the question that comes to haunt him. British author Haig's darkly witty and delightfully clever American debut (his first novel, The Last Family in England, was published in the UK in 2004) is clearly inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet, and part of the fun for the reader is discovering the many droll and unforced parallels. But the real draw is the extraordinary voice that Haig has created for his first-person narrator. Given to panic attacks, Philip is a breathless storyteller who seldom stops for punctuation but whose honesty and innocence, which shine from every sentence, are utterly captivating and heartbreakingly poignant. The result is an absolutely irresistible read."
Meanwhile, I will be reading at an incredible bookstore" tomorrow night at 7 p.m. (and I'm not a bit scared--at least,not yet.) If anyone is near Porter Square Books in Cambridge, please stop by!
Now for my humble request: If anyone has read The Liar's Diary, and would like to put up a short review on Amazon or B & N, I would much appreciate it.