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Friday, October 7, 2011

First Reader

The idea of writing for your best reader, whether it is your best friend or your mother who loves everything you write, is not a new one. Many writers have such people in their lives -- a first reader -- someone they trust, someone who reads a first draft and understands where the story is going even if the writing is not quite there yet.

And when the story is being written and rewritten, somehow this first reader sits close by, not literally you understand, but in the reader's mind. Like when you are writing something really funny, part of the pleasure is making this first reader laugh.

So, I like this idea. But the trouble is, I've never been able to decide: who is this one person I'm supposed to be writing to? Sometimes I think it's my sister because she was there growing up with me in a small town. She would get the references to the steep hill going out of Wiarton and at the base of it, the beer store that always caused a lot of traffic congestion. She would laugh at my jokes.

But sometimes it's not her at all. Sometimes it feels like I'm telling the story to my neighbour who doesn't know anything about Ontario or snow or growing up in a small town. But she knows birds and I'm writing about birds so she's my first reader.

Maybe I'm not monogamous.

I'm reading Elizabeth Hay's fabulous novel, Late Nights on Air. There's this scene where Gwen asks Harry about his imaginary listener (both of them work in radio.)

"That person you pretend you're talking to when you're on air?" She looked up. "Who is it?"

Harry smiled, "My imaginary listener? He's a man in his sixties who comes home tired from work and he goes down to the basement to his workbench and builds model boats. And while he's doing that he listens with rapt attention to me."

Whether you have one kind reader, or a cast of kind readers, or an imaginary reader, I like the idea. It keeps me writing. It creates an intimacy I don't think my writing would otherwise have. I think I take risks knowing that I can hang onto this reader's hand and they'll yank me up again, dust me off if I fail.

Now...back to writing.