We’re not talking George Orwell here. I’m not arrogant enough to consider myself a literary master, or have any ideas about someday becoming one. I’m not a writer of essays that question the fibers of society, or of books that make your worldview do a pirouette. What I was born to do is write to make people happy.
That’s because I believe in the value of simply being. And I don’t think that’s acknowledged enough in our world. Goals must be concrete. We must always Be Productive, because otherwise, we are unable to Accomplish Things. And that philosophy has its merits. But equally important is our ability to be at peace with doing nothing. When whirlwind becomes the default, we forget the bliss that comes with stillness. Writing--the type of writing that I was born to do--is about reminding readers of the simple happiness of just existing.
In some ways, I’ve had this set of values since I was very young, dating back to even my six-year-old scribbles. My first real story, if I’m remembering correctly, was a piece written in scented marker about fairies. Then there was the horror novel--the unabashed rip-off of Goosebumps. (Since then, originality has become significantly more of a priority.) There was the one about malaria on the Oregon Trail, the flash fiction that radiated middle-school angst, and the novel about a teenager solving a murder mystery. But what they all had in common, across ten years of writing, is that they all served the same purpose: to bring joy.
None of the plots was ever particularly deep. You couldn’t analyze them in English class, but that wasn’t ever the point. I never wanted my writing to be analyzed; I thought that took all the meaning out of it. When you, a reader, open a book, you’re consenting to unzipping your skull, plucking out your brain, and temporarily gifting it to the author. The reader-author relationship is the ultimate trust fall. Let me backtrack a bit--as a young child, I was constantly aggravated by not being taken seriously, and writing was perhaps the only situation in which I felt I could be the guide rather than the guided. My stories were my world, and only I could dictate it. But as I got older, I was introduced to the curious phenomenon of English class analysis. These authors of the books that I read in class--they had to have felt like I did, cringing every time these clueless nine-year-olds stretched the text like Silly Putty.
So I decided, as a budding writer, that it was my job to defend the author’s intention. “We’re getting so far from what the author wrote that it can’t possibly be what he really meant,” I announced every year to every English teacher. “Isn’t that wrong?”
For a few years, none of my teachers had a satisfactory response. They’d mutter phrases like “authors are ambiguous” or “how does anyone really know?” Then they’d change the subject rapidly and I wouldn’t bring it up for another year. But my eighth grade teacher gave me an answer that hit me over the head like a cartoon exclamation point: “It doesn’t matter what the author ‘really meant.’ What’s important is what you get out of it as a reader.”
To me, that was radical. I’d never considered that writing was as important for the reader as it was for the author. But it made sense. Sometimes, I reflected, the reader’s happiness comes from allowing the author complete control, but sometimes, it comes from interpreting the text for him- or herself. As long as I was making people happy, I was having my desired impact. Perhaps it wasn’t a trust fall. Perhaps it was more of a game of ping-pong.
Now, my view on writing is complex, and I’m sure that it’ll continue to evolve. I don’t have any guarantee of getting my novel published, and if that does happen, I’m sure that a “real” author-reader divide will enhance my idea of the reader’s exact purpose. But even so, I’m certain that I was born to write.