Is my work. My process, my time, my effort, my skill, my creativity. It is not, as I was told by a reader on the Robb Facebook page, a collaboration with the reader. The story is mine, and is not as this reader claims, owned by the reader once they read it.
I spent this Monday in April as I spend most Mondays, and Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, working on a story, often fighting for the words, trying to see the characters, feel what they feel so I can know what they’ll do, what they’ll say.
Writing’s my job, and I love my job—fortunately. But it’s still work, often hard, often tedious, often painstaking.
I own my work, in every way, on every level. Just me. Only me. Because it’s just and only me writing the story.
This reader also claims a book isn’t finished until the reader filters it through her own life experiences.
No, it’s finished when I—and my editor—deem it finished. Then the reader can read this finished, polished, edited and produced work and form opinions, have feelings, visualize it as she chooses. But the reader has no input on the actual work. The reader has her or his individual take on that work. And that opinion, those feelings, that reader interpretation is valid, it’s personal and it’s real for that individual reader.
I would never question the right of a reader to hold those opinions. (I don’t have to agree with them!) But I will stomp down hard on the opinion the reader, through the act of reading, somehow forms a creative partnership with me—or any writer, ever.
Reading, imagining how characters look, sound, falling into a story—so to speak—doesn’t make a collaboration—which is, by definition the process of working with someone to produce or create something. I created, my publisher and I produced. The reader reads the result of the work, and is entitled, of course, to see as he or she sees.
Did this reader—or any—sit with me at the keyboard hour after hour, day after day, week after work sweating out the story, creating the characters and the world they inhabit?
Of course not. A reader doesn’t share in the workload or the creativity and effort. A reader reads, enjoys—or doesn’t—inhabits the world the writer created—or doesn’t because that particular story didn’t pull her in.
The reader is absolutely, entitled to an opinion—positive, negative or mixed on a book. There are all sorts of venues for the readers to express those opinions, and the wise writers stays away from those venues.
I find it incredibly arrogant to consider yourself in collaboration with a writer because you read the book. That’s not an opinion on the work, that’s a claim of ownership gained through the act of reading.
I call bullshit. And I find this stand wildly insulting.
What I worked months on, chained to that keyboard, often struggling to find the right words, the right direction, the reader curls up and reads in a matter of hours. Often—if that reader is me reading something someone else sweated over, with a glass of wine at my elbow.
That’s not collaboration. That doesn’t entitle me to say that story belongs to me. My FEELINGS on that story belong to me, and that’s all.
I’ve been a reader all my life—a voracious one. I grew up, lucky for me, in a family of readers. I’ve certainly read countless books and stopped and thought: Man, I wish I’d written that!
Or, alternately: I wouldn’t have done it that way. I’d have done this.
Never, in all my years as a reader have I considered myself a collaborator in a story I read. Never in all my years as a writer have I considered readers—and again, valued, appreciated readers—collaborators, or indeed any part of my writing process.
I’m grateful to readers for taking the time to read my books, for spending hard earned cash to buy the books, for libraries for stocking them so readers can access them.
I spend time doing this blog when I can to show some of that appreciation. Laura spends even more time on social media to give readers a way to interact and find out the latest news because we value readers.
But there are limits to my appreciation. And it comes to a hard stop when one of those readers feels entitled enough to devalue my work by laying claim to it, simply because she reads it.
Where the hell does this lofty, arrogant claim come from? I’ve got some advice for anyone who makes it—spend a few months slaving over a story, researching the minutia thereof, editing, revising, second guessing, manage to get it published, then see how you feel when someone who had nothing whatsoever to do with all that work claims to be your collaborator because she read it and has opinions.
So Gentle Reader, in closing, thanks for reading, whatever opinion you form on the story. But if you decide that reading, that opinion, give you any sort of ownership over the story, think again.