You don’t write for yourself…

As a writer, you don’t write for yourself. Why do you write? You write to appeal to the freedom of the reader. What freedom? The freedom to choose to join you in bringing your enterprise to its end. This is Sartre’s argument in the chapter, “Why write?” (from What is Literature and other Essays)

I used to say, “I write for myself,” as I’ve heard many other writers claim. Bullshit. We don’t really. We can never see our writing the way the reader does, because we are the creator, and in some ways we knew the story even before we began to write it. The reader doesn’t. The reader reads for himself or herself. This is true. When I read, I embed myself into the narrative and see it through to the end, with all of its surprises and unexpected encounters.

The writer cannot do without the reader. The relationship is dialectical. Writer and reader merge together to bring the work of art or venture to its end, to its completion. Though the writer does not write for herself, she still experiences a pleasure as the reader experiences pleasure. The pleasure comes in knowing that the reader has freely entered the world you have created and accepts it and believes in it. I’m currently reading Roberto Bolano’s 2666, and I find myself outraged – not by Bolano as author – but by the appalling realities he has unveiled before my eyes, which I have often wanted to avert; the narrative is relentless. But I have chosen freely to enter the world he has painted and depicted, a world all too real and familiar. Sartre argues that genuine artists and good writers do this. They may confront their readers with scenarios that make them wriggle and squirm, but ultimately, the intention is to demand freedom – freedom from man suppressing man and freedom to motivate action and change.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tyrone
    Jan 10, 2011 @ 16:44:11

    Wow! This is an especially strong post. I especially like the third paragraph. Why do writers write? Every answer to this question is probably both similar and different to the next one.


  2. cannyuncanny
    Jan 10, 2011 @ 17:20:11

    Thanks Tyrone. I’m really enjoying Sartre’s essays on literature. This post is my interpretation of his musings on why we write, and for the most part, I agree…


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