What does a reader's response mean to the writer, even if it's negative, or not uncritical?

What does a reader’s response mean to the writer, even if it’s negative, or not uncritical?

The email

On the Wednesday just gone, after hours of thought, I posted the following on Facebook: Today, one of my oldest friends, an avid reader and very careful in the books she selects, sent me an email.  She wrote, ‘I’ve read I’m Ready Now.  Really cared about the characters, thought the suspense and build excellent.  Enjoyed it the most of your books.’  And this short and sweet note made me the happiest I’ve been in weeks.

Part of the reason why I posted the above was because of that last line in my friend’s email.  I’m Ready Now is a book in which I’ve invested my heart and soul, so it’s an honour – and honour is the word – to know that a reader sees this novella as being a step forward.  However, I also posted it to show how even the briefest piece of feedback will lift the writer from the gutter, the metaphorical gutter if not the literal one.

And it’s not just about praise – even a piece of negative criticism, especially if it’s thoughtfully composed, is helpful in the long run.

It’s about response.  A writer writes to be read, and, so it’s dreamed, to know how people feel about the work.  Was the reader engaged?  Were they moved?  Did the characters and their predicament linger for days after the last page was turned?  Did the reader find themselves talking about the story with others as if they’d personally witnessed the events on the page?  And what of the prose – carefully crafted?

But it’s also about keeping the silence at bay.

The silence

For days, weeks, months, years, decades even, writers work at every single dot and squiggle on the page; if the writer’s extraordinarily lucky, the work will be published.  And then?  Well, more often than not, there’s silence.  It was an eminent Australian novelist who told me about this.  And I said, ‘But how is that possible?  You’re a multi-award-winning writer.’  And he said, ‘It happens after every book.’

Most writers, myself included, say that writing is the most rewarding activity they know but that it’s also the hardest – breathing life into a sentence takes  a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears.  More than likely, for every word that’s on the published page there’s a word the writer has discarded.  No one asks us to do this crazy of crazy pastimes, especially the fiction pastime, but there are rewards to be had.

The quotes

What follows, then, are the rewards – a selection of quotes from some of the feedback I’ve received so far from those who’ve taken in I’m Ready Now (listed anonymously to protect the correspondent):

Your writing is always filled with so much love.  The story was great, smooth and easy to read despite the dual voices – you made it work well.  The milestone thing is something that I can relate to, and I’ve been wondering if I should stop taking myself so fucking seriously.  I’m Ready Now will stay with me for some time.

Precise and elegant prose, the subtle interplay of character, and the ability to make the reader want to read on.  I really enjoyed the sense of place both in Sydney and Tasmania, one of your strengths, too. Congratulations.

I’m Ready Now is another step in the steady development of your work.  I especially admired the dialectic you maintained throughout between the familial/domestic on the one hand, and the momentous – death, sex, love, fracture, searching – on the other hand.  I think you’ll get some real attention with this one.

A gripping saga and very moving.  I found the characters believable and I hope things work out for them.

I have just read I’m Ready Now, and was totally hooked; which I find even more interesting as I didn’t particularly like Gordon, just for selfishness reasons. (His, not mine.) But he had slyly worked his way under my skin. Even into my pure little veins.

Do you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about your characters and their decision-making when it occurred to be that I haven’t told you that I loved it.  There were certain passages at which I almost gasped.  The passionate commitment to a child, the strange longing for the first mad love, the need, sometimes, to get to the new place – the untested territory – alone.  Oh how wonderful to have written this book.

The thanks

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who’s email me, or posted something about the book on Facebook, or sent me a text-message, or just said a kind word face-to-face.  It does make it worthwhile, and it makes the story more alive.  Undoubtedly it’s a ridiculous thing to say, but I’m sure that the characters themselves feel more alive, too.

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