This morning, as I contemplate the publication of a new novel — something I’m so happy about — I am aware of how worried I am too. Ach! I am sure a lot of writers worry about how a new book will be received. You feel lucky to have had the chance to write it, and to have found a welcoming publisher, and yet the thing is, once a book is in print, it’s on its own. You can’t help it anymore; you’ve done the best you can in writing it; and now if you’re lucky you breathe, open your hands, and let it go.
What encourages me this morning is the thought that this listening out into the world for response is actually something that folds right into the creation of a work of art — at least, it does for me. As I struggled over the course of ten years to find my story about Edgar Degas in New Orleans, I had to listen constantly to the reader inside me. How else do you know what is working in a story, and what isn’t? It’s that inner reader — in my case, an honest, sensitive one, easily bored, who yearns for the story to make an emotional connection, to create a powerful (if quiet!) pull —– it’s that inner reader I’ve been listening to for years, as this reader has listened to my story grow, flounder, make false turns, get cut, grow again, start fresh, flounder again.
Writing IS listening. And listening is so precious, both in life and in the creation of art. You can’t control the ways in which other people will listen to your art, but you can reassure yourself that you’ve listened as carefully and wholeheartedly as you can to this story as it’s struggled to become written.
So today I wish you a fruitful listening, on all fronts: writing and love, politics and culture. (If only people COULD listen to each other more carefully and compassionately in this crazy election season!)
I add to the wonderful quote from Samuel Beckett in “Worstword Ho” (“Fail again. Fail better”), “Listen again. Listen better.”