Writing is easy, finding a reader is hard.
No, that's not quite true. Because writing isn't really easy. It just looks that way. Staring out the window, pen in hand, doesn't look that hard. But finding a reader? No wonder writers can be such whiny, self-aggrandizing sons of bitches and daughters of dogs. No wonder we are given to snarling criticism of anyone else's work. No wonder we chuckle with recognition at this delightful piece by Clive James. It's envy, pure and simple. Not necessarily because someone else is better than we are. We're green with envy because they are being read!
If there is a piano in the room or a guitar available, a musician can begin to play. No one else has to listen. Everybody can go on about what they were doing, finish their conversation, go get another drink. But if the musician is good, if she is playing or singing something that speaks to someone else, she will be heard.
An artist can paint or sculpt or construct a piece and put it where it can be seen, even if it's just on his front lawn. And passersby can ignore it. Or it can catch the eye. Someone can, of their own volition, stop and take the time to look. Nobody has to ask them to do it.
But write something down on paper? That requires someone stop what they are doing and take the time to read - take the time to read before they have any actual interest in the thing to be read. And while the music will sound finished and the painting may be framed, the writer looking for a reader will not have a published book in hand. She will have a piece of paper. A sheaf of paper. It will look messy, unfinished. And I know the look. I have given and received the look. A hesitant but unmistakeably horrified look that simply screams, "Do I have to?"
I don't feel that way about a piece of music I happen to hear or a painting I happen to see. But I resent being asked to read something somebody else wrote before I know if it will be worth my while. I almost never want to do it. I almost always feel imposed upon.
I'm a writer and I feel that way. I'm not proud of it. But I get it.
A few years ago, I was very lucky to find Writers Cramp here in Seattle. Without them, I could never have finished my first novel, The Year of the Crow. It is our given task, as part of the group, to read each other's work and comment on it in as helpful ways as we can. Still, sometimes we want to share.
I was just as lucky to find a couple of friends who were willing to read the first draft - and who, amazingly enough, liked it, rough though it was at that time.
Even so, both of them had that look in their eye when I asked them if they would read it. The look that said, "Oh, oh. I like you. But this will probably suck."