Maybe I got an unusual implicit education: that some writers are just geniuses, that if you’re one of these geniuses, your genius will show in the brilliance of your words. Or maybe I wasn’t the only one implicitly nudged to think this. I actually had a student write something like this to me at one point, in a creative writing class at my university: something along the lines of “writing is about showing your genius to the world.”
So, what if the world doesn’t acknowledge your genius? Is the world wrong? Or are you just meant not to write?
Here’s something I wasn’t trained to think in those days, a favorite quotation that I found in a wonderful book by the neuroscientist Stanislaus Dehaene, Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read. It’s from Alberto Manguel, The History of Reading, and appears as an epigraph to chapter 1:
The existence of the text is a silent existence, silent until the moment in which a reader reads it. Only when the able eye makes contact with the markings on the tablet does the text come to active life. All writing depends on the generosity of the reader.
“All writing depend on the generosity of the reader”! Who woulda thunk it?
I suppose it does occur to most of us, in that we want that reader to lend–no, gift–us his or her attention. And what a precious gift. I told my students over and over, “When someone takes the time to read what you’ve written, they’re giving you something you can never give back: their time. Be thankful to anyone who takes the time to read your work with care and make serious comments, for better or worse.”
(Be thankful even to teachers who write comments on your text or about it. Sure, they get paid, but not nearly enough. Especially when you meet with a student in conference to discuss her writing and ask, “Did my comments make sense?” and the answer is “I didn’t read those.” In a way, that’s another blog. In a way.)
My point here, which I relearn every day, is that writing of any kind is something that happens between a writer and a reader. The trick is finding ways to make that between happen. And in the 1970s and 1980s, it was quite a trick. At which I failed.