Who Do You Listen To?

After I came across a very brave and unique novel titled: Taliban Escape by Aabra  which was reviewed in The Dark Phantom Review, I remembered an exchange I had with a fellow writer and former student. I want to post it here for anyone visiting this blog as a reminder of why we write:

Writer: I’m trying hard to maintain the last bit of writing advice you provided, “write what you want, the way you want.” That’s hard, especially with two friends criticizing it. Right now, if I take them seriously, I need to go back and almost start over with my work-in-progress.”

JR: Yes, that’s a tough one. One short answer is to listen but choose what to change if anything. The way I see it, we have this ideal story in our heads. It’s endless, but when you write, the readers plug in what you write and if it doesn’t connect somewhere to the universal story, they get this disjunction and their pencils move. What that gives us then is the issue of who’s doing the writing. But even deeper is the question of vision–-readers want you to tell them the story they want to hear. It’s your job to tell them a story they’ve never heard. If you can’t get past the universal, then you add nothing to the inventory of art and vision. It’s the ones who teach through their writing who are important.
A longer answer might be here: Readers are conservative and they want to be safe. Unsafe writing makes them uncomfortable. Your critics probably attack your work either at the Story or the Style, but never at the Structural level. They have that right when you put it on the table, but you cannot listen to everything they say no matter how much you like them. Realize this: the need to be loved is so strong, most writers will abandon their vision in order to bring their story into synch with the safe and limiting minds of their readers. If you do this, you fall as a writer because you are no longer scaling the heights of creation and in so doing you acknowledge the stasis of existence–getting and spending–and you will always feel guilty about knowing what you have betrayed. Each of us is unique while being an evolved animal who shares an immense pool of history and truth with your fellows, but you are not them and the vision you carry as a writer is the exact thing that changes, as Rushdie reminds us, cucumbers into pickles. Think of the journey…a long road into light. It is easy to stay where you are, but at some point you have to turn your back on those following you and go directly to the light and say follow me…what you have, my friends, is a faded vision. They want to visit a museum. You want to create the object they go to the museum to see. No one will ever suggest that DaVinci should have colored the Mona Lisa’s robe pink. So? Who do you listen to? Shakespeare said it, I say it, be true to yourself. If yourself wants to be loved too much, then you will make the amends you need to make to be loved. But if you tell them, this is my vision, this was not here before, then you expand what is. As a writer, You bring an object to the museum. You have to. It is your job, as a writer, to bring, not an imitation to the Museum of Writing, but the real and very first piece of its kind. That is your obligation. Unfortunately it’s an obligation, that, if you meet it, won’t let you be normal. Resist the need to be loved. Be a writer of new things. Jack