Reader > Writer

The other day in class, my creative writing class, we were discussing a story we had all read.  It was a story that I love, a story that was probably perfect in every way.  However, there was one place in the story that I had a problem with.  The “N” word was in the story.  The main character was black, and he said that other people thought of him as a Nigger, as something that deserved to be called that.

I pointed out that the word offended me.  I told them that it wasn’t offensive as a general rule.  Nigger can offend some and not others.  I didn’t tell them they should be offended.  That’s for them to decide.  But I was, and it had to be brought up that readers could be offended. I loved the story, but that word could be a problem, and that you had to be careful of offending your reader.  Of course, the class exploded.  It was a great thing to discuss, really.  Some students wanted to defend the word and most of them had no problem with it.  The thing is, I really didn’t mind it either.  But, I had to teach them that I could mind it, and as a reader, there is no reason for me to read a story that offends me.  That made them go silent.  They were confused.  I picked up our reader and held it in the air.

“The only reason you guys are reading this is because I assigned it,” I said.  “In the world, out of class, there is absolutely no reason for a reader to read your work unless they want to.  If a reader puts down a story, who’s fault is it?”

Who’s fault is it?  When a reader doesn’t like what they are reading, is it because the reader is stupid?  Maybe.  Is it because they “Don’t get it”?  Could be.  However, the truth is, it is the writer’s fault.  Every time.  When someone is reading a story and they don’t like it, put it down, and never read it, it is the writer’s fault.  The writer didn’t connect to the reader and they failed. Most people don’t read contemporary fiction.  Most people don’t read.  Society doesn’t owe the artist anything, sadly.

That is a concept that is difficult for me to teach all my classes.  They can write an “A” paper, but if I don’t agree with their argument, they fail.  They pass the assignment, but they fail the purpose, what they were trying to do.  I might think that one of their stories is great, but that doesn’t mean everyone will.  I faced this a ton in graduate school.  I had to get over the fact that some stories, some authors, were completely unappealing to me.  That I hated it.  It just didn’t connect.  I had to struggle to see the art in it, which is what grad school helps you do.  But I honestly haven’t read anything I didn’t like sense college.  I put down a novel the other day because it bored me.  It just didn’t hit the buttons.  Who’s fault is it?  It is the writer’s fault, every time.  The writer failed to connect to me.  Does that make it a bad story?  Not at all.  And if an author connects to 90% of the population, and doesn’t connect to me, then who cares?  That’s what I tried to give to my students.  They might offend, but if they only offend a few people, then they should consider themselves successful.  They still offended, and there is a moral component to it.  Can you sleep at night knowing you offended someone because you used a word?  Is that the mark of a good writer?  The ability to do the math?  I’m not sure.

A student brought up Mark Twain and his books at an example, as being a classic.  I pointed out that I didn’t like Mark Twain, hated his books and refused to ever give the guy credit. Is Mark Twain a good writer? Some say.  I don’t.  He didn’t connect with me and failed as a writer because of it. But he connected to many others, so it doesn’t matter.  The math works out for him.  Thus, the many problems of the creative writer.

I’m sure someone disagrees.  Maybe even agrees.  Leave them comments.

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One thought on “Reader > Writer

  1. I believe what you’re looking at here, Jarvis, is a more artistic flavor of the old adage “the customer is always right.”

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