I'm currently in the process of writing a short story... and it's been reallyyy tough. 😖
There are great moments when ideas flow and I'm very pleased with my work. At other times, I start overthinking and second-guessing myself. Is my writing clear? Are the words that I'm using too simple or complex? Will the reader be able to grasp the feelings that I'm trying to convey?
I have a strong sense of place for the story as the setting is somewhere I've been and the memory is vivid. The characters and their personalities are also clear because they're inspired by people I've actually met.
I know exactly what I'm trying to say, but will the reader get the essence of it?
In the midst of my struggles, I remembered a few passages from The Paper Menagerie, a collection of short fiction by Ken Liu.
In the preface, Liu gives an in-depth look at the biological journey of a piece of writing as it travels from the mind of the author to the mind of the reader.
Every act of communication is a miracle of translation.
He describes himself writing words 'At this moment, in this place . . . ' to be received by the reader 'at another time, in another place . . . '
As he writes his nerves are firing, sending signals down his spinal cord, branching to his arms to the muscles in his fingers making them twitch, and hence 'thought is translated into motion' and marks are made on paper.
The reader then has to receive these messages. Light must hit the marks on the page and be reflected off the page to the reader, where upside-down images are formed in their eyes on millions of light-sensitive cells, converting this light into electrical signals which travel along their nerves to a specific part of the brain where the signals are translated into letters, punctuation marks, words and sentences and interpreted by the reader.
The entire system seems fragile, preposterous, science fictional.
It's intricate and can be affected by so many things including the reader's mood, opinions and the limits of their imagination.
Who can say if the thoughts you have in your mind as you read these words are the same thoughts I had in my mind as I typed them? We are different, you and I . . .
Things will inevitably get lost in translation in the journey from author to reader, but regardless, there is still understanding between the two.
Our minds managed to touch, if but briefly and imperfectly.
Everyone interprets what they read differently. What the reader imagines will inevitably be different from what the author had in mind. It will also differ from reader to reader.
On discussing the importance of reading to children in The Call of the Wild and Free, Arment quotes Sarah Clarkson:
Consider that for every children’s classic written, there are countless versions of it to be found within the minds of the children who read it, and no two of them are the same.
The imagination of each child is unique, creating a new image to fit the words he or she reads.
Imagination varies from person to person because our consciousness is different. The books we read, the music we listen to, and the art we look at will be experienced in unique ways. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde says:
It is the spectator and not life that art really mirrors.
I was reminded not to take the reader's interpretation of my work too seriously. Once you've written to the best of your ability and it aligns with what you envisioned, then that's good enough.
The results of my work don't have much to do with me. I can only be in charge of producing the work itself. That's a hard enough job. I refuse to take on additional jobs, such as trying to police what anybody thinks about my work once it leaves my desk.
Recognising that people's reactions don't belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you've created, terrific. If people ignore what you've created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you've created, don't sweat it.