09 August 2008

Who am I writing this for?

Ever since I learned how to tell my first story, the wild child in me wanted to write. It wanted to play around with words, characters and thousands of different plot sequences that shape our lives as we make our daily choices. I wanted to make sense of how I experienced the world by putting together a meaningful story – an explanation of the chaos around us.

Life is a non-linear chaos. Everything and anything is possible. It is happening right now and it is beyond our understanding.

I take my little people and their little events and arrange them in a meaningful and comprehensible plot. The one which offers a resolution at the end, possibly a catharsis as well. By lining them up along one plausible explanation of their life story, I take away choices from them. Choices to experience the world around them in any way they want and regardless of how grave and difficult their circumstances might be. So far, my favourite character has been a woman who feels rejected by her partner and who is desperately trying to improve their flaky relationship. To be able to create a dynamic tension in the story, I need to position this female character as rejected and clingy. I also need to portray the man as a cold, evasive and emotionally unavailable bastard who is in the relationship just for the ride. I don’t even have to tell you what will happen to them. Because the moment I told you how the two of them experience themselves in their own eyes, I have denied them the choice to see their reality in any different way. They are locked in the narrative.

Yet, they could also be a couple who is deeply in love with each other but is taking some time to concentrate on other things apart from their relationship. OK, I know what you think – there is no drama in this.

Every narrative is restrictive. It offers explanation at the expense of multiplicity of outcomes and choices. Not every narrative is equally desirable and profitable though. Especially in this country, there are very strict poetic rules about what type of story and style of writing are acceptable and sellable. I am sitting at editorial meetings of several publishing houses and note down all the drawbacks of newly arrived manuscripts. One has too many metaphors, the other is too vague and leaves the reader uneasy. The story is either too simple or not gripping enough. Some might say that I am sitting on a golden egg here by having access to all these rules that can help me write a perfect manuscript. I have the insider’s view to what publishers want. I could write a winning manuscript!

I could.

Yet, I choose not to. And I make this decision after a huge anxiety attack that made me list all the expectations that publishers have of a manuscript that they would consider buying. As the list in my head frantically grew, my confidence scarily fell to pieces. I asked myself – who am I writing this for? Who is my intended audience? Who do I need to satisfy? Which mould do I need to fit? And then this desperate narrative of fitting in also cracked along the seem.

I remembered – those who write to fit an already existing form stand a good chance of getting published. Along the way though, they risk losing their creativity by trying to fit in and satisfy the poetic trend. They will mass produce – every year one book. They will be able to call themselves full-time writers and will make a mediocre living out of it. They will call themselves successful writers but they will not feel the success in their heart. They will wake up one day and have the anxiety attack.

I don’t know who I am writing this for – this very text. I don’t have my intended audience in mind. I know which narrative is in vogue with most publishers at this moment, but I had to give myself a panic attack to realize it’s best for me to forget about this insider’s knowledge. The more I know about expectations of my readership, the less I am in touch with my writer’s voice. With the wild child.

Those who have written without any regard to publishers or readers have brought us the most creative and innovative stories and characters. They have given us the juicy, authentic, heart of creation. They have moved boundaries and broken poetic moulds. And yet, very often, they have not been considered successful writers in their time.

For a long time, I have believed that a successful writer is the one who knows how to communicate their message to their audience. My definition always involved some kind of exchange and validation of the writer’s voice from outside of themselves. Now, I’ve changed my mind. The successful writer is the one who writes from and for themselves. Their voice is born out of silence and not out of publishers’ expectations and popular trends. They welcome panic attacks that bring them back to their wild child story-tellers.