Thursday, December 6, 2012

If a Tree Falls in the Forest, Am I a Writer?

“If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I first heard this question as a child and thought it was funny, asked to make children think about circular arguments. As an adult, I always thought it pretentious: are we really so self-important that we think a falling tree does not make a sound unless we hear it? When sitting down to write this blog, however, I discovered an actual discussion around this question. From a purely scientific point of view, it turns out, a tree that falls with no one around to hear it does not, in fact, make a sound, because sound is defined as the vibration in the ear caused by movement in the air. With no listener, there can be no sound.

If I write a book, but no one reads my writing, am I a writer? Is writing meaningfully enough defined by the act of putting words to paper, or does it require a reader perusing those words? Does the tree of writing, falling in the forest need a reader present in order to be heard?

Throughout my years of writing, I have been grappling with the question of who am I writing for? Am I writing because I must, because the writing is in my blood? I think that is at least part of the answer. I love the writing, I want to write, and writing is, without doubt, deep in my blood and bones. But am I satisfied enough with writing just for myself? The answer to this question is far more complicated. I wish to be satisfied with that. I feel like I should be satisfied with that. And yet I am not.

Yesterday, when I wrote how other people’s opinions confuse me as to how I feel about my parenting, I had writing in mind too. Once I let other people read my writing, opinions are bound to surface. Every reader is a critic to a certain degree, whether they love what I write, hate it, decide not to finish it, or never pick it up. And, being me, every opinion has the potential to bring me soaring to the sky or crawling deep under the bed. Is it possible to write, and wish for others to read, yet still keep my opinion of my writing and of myself as a writer pure and unaffected by theirs?

Downed tree in our yard. We never heard it fall....
For now, as I am working through the first draft of my new novel, I would like to write for me, with no critics in the room. To trust, perhaps, that since we are all unique and yet all have common experiences and thoughts, one day someone will want to read my book and feel as though I wrote it for her, and it will not matter that there was only one reader in my mind as I wrote the book. For that one reader, the book will be hers.

As I was about to publish this blog, I saw this blog post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner about "How do you know if your word is any good."

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