Tim Kreider on audiences

“There is no ideal audience, no council of elders to adjudicate literary quality; it’s just us. The only people you’ll ever really be able to connect with are the ones who are here now, enjoying their one brief chance to be alive alongside you.

I now wish I’d been less guarded in my interactions with readers. Because, it turns out, this may have been the part of writing a book that mattered the most. When I saw Ray Bradbury speak—one of my own favorite writers as a young reader—he told us that, when he was a teenager, he’d sent a crazed fan letter to Hal Foster, creator of the comic strip Prince Valiant. By way of thank-you note, Foster sent young Ray a whole page of his original art. ‘I wrote him to say, ‘I love you,’ and he wrote back and said, ‘I love you too,’’ Bradbury concluded. ‘Write the people whose work you love and tell ‘em you love them!’ he commanded. The best consequence of having written my books has been the people it’s brought into my life—writers I’ve long admired who are now correspondents, students who’ve graduated to become colleagues and friends, strangers I came to know and, sometimes, to love. You beam your feeble radio signals out into the abyss and then, one morning, years later, the skies are full of starships.

My partner’s former husband, a musician, also told her that the creative process really isn’t complete until you’ve shared your work with others. Which, for the kinds of people who prefer to spend hundreds of hours alone in a room toying with their own ideas, can be a nerve-racking ordeal. But there’s a crucial difference between the need to be paid attention to and the desire to connect—it’s the difference between trying to one-up someone else’s story and telling one of your own to commiserate, to empathize; between saying Look at me, everybody and You’re not the only one.

— Tim Kreider (via)