At a session of the International Festival of Authors in Toronto several years ago when I was more naïve and less experienced as a fiction writer, I challenged an author on a panel who was talking about all the revisions she did after negative feedback from readers to an early draft of hers. I said, “But isn’t what is important that you are true to your own voice, whatever others may think?”
She replied, “But if what I’ve written doesn’t communicate with the reader, what’s the point?”
To which I responded, “The point is we write primarily for ourselves. At least, I do.”
I was speaking out of the context of having written a very personal memoir “August Farewell” that initially I had no intention of publishing and being in the midst of writing my first novel “Searching for Gilead” that was also precipitated by personal and systemic issues that I wanted to tackle.
Well, now I’m at a point where I agree with Lao-Tse, “The more you know, the less you understand.” Meaning, the more I’ve written and published, the more confused I’ve become.
My current dilemma is in relation to a collection of inter-related short stories that I’ve begun. I finished the first one and sent it out to a few friends to read. I’ve gotten mixed responses. One person, who is an editor by profession, said, “But nothing happens in it.” A second friend, an avid reader, said, “I just didn’t connect with the main character.”
However, a third wrote me, “What stays with me a few days later is the feeling of intense passion that is conveyed by the story…I identify personally with the feeling behind the words, but I also think they have enduring and universal appeal… a very successful writing project.”
The short story in question is intended much more as a character study than an action thriller. And I happen to like it pretty much as it is. It speaks to me.
Though the creative satisfaction is by far my principal motivation for writing, I’m no longer in the place where I am writing just for myself. My life has been immensely enriched by the touching reader feedback that I have received to “August Farewell.” I’m learning a great deal from the responses that I’m getting to “Searching for Gilead.” The author-reader dialogue in person and through social media such as Twitter and Facebook is a big part of my life now.
I want to be as fine a writer as I can be which suggests that I have much to learn from feedback. But, I also want to be authentic to my own voice and not tailor my writing to the expectations and tastes of others.
How do you resolve this dilemma in your writing?
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My memoir “August Farewell” tells the story of the two weeks between my partner’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and his death. Interspersed among the scenes are vignettes from our thirty-three years together as a gay couple.
Information on “August Farewell” and on my novel “Searching for Gilead”, including YouTube video book trailers on each, is available on my website at http://DavidGHallman.com
Both the memoir and the novel are available for order from your local bookseller or on-line retailers including http://amazon.com, http://barnesandnoble.com, http://amazon.ca, http://chapters.indigo.ca, http://amazon.co.uk