Social Aspects of Writing as Art

I’m reading my July/August 2010 Writer’s Digest magazine, and it has an interview with Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi  and the recently released Beatrice and Virgil. After reflecting on a conflict he had with his publisher on an early draft of a novel, Martel says, “You have to be true to yourself, but you also have to compromise. Art is a social activity. Art is about connecting to readers, or viewers, or listeners…and so you have to listen to them. You have to balance carefully being true to yourself and trying to be, to a certain degree, accessible.”

So many times at writers’ conferences I hear editors and agents speak about an author’s need to be unique, bring something fresh to the story or genre, develop a distinctive voice, etc. Yet, they also remind writers that if their writing is too personal, too insular it might be incapable of reaching readers.

I think it is this fine balance Martel is describing. Those of us who are writers writing for a wide audience need to bring our readers something unique, show them something they might never have imagined. Yet we must also create a work that is not so unique readers cannot connect with it, cannot relate to the experiences of the protagonist in particular and those of other key characters. We need to create something fresh that retains some small echo of what is familiar to human existence. And this need increases in relationship to the degree of challenge presented by the settings, characters, ideas, or themes.

I write my first drafts for myself, but I revise with an eye to making my stories and novels accessible and meaningful for readers beyond my small circle of family and friends. It is a drive that is rooted not just in my desire to be published, but more important, in a desire to communicate, to touch, commiserate and assist, or to suggest new ways, new ideas for living and loving in this wide, wide world we share.