“Every writer worth reading…”

“Every writer worth reading offers us the gift of self.” –John Lienhard, Engines of Our Ingenuity, episode 1047

John Lienhard is the voice and writer behind Houston Public Radio’s technology and science program. In this episode, he’s speaking of the importance of a real human presence behind “technical” writing–essentially arguing against the conventional wisdom that technical writing ought to be impersonal.

Lienhard’s observation has value for fiction writers, too. The self that gets offered by the fiction writer may belong to a character, but that character exists thanks to the writer’s personal investment. I disagree with the common assumption that writers working in memoir or autobiographical fiction somehow are offering readers a bigger chunk of their selves. Fiction writers are just as “naked” before their readers.

In fact, I feel more vulnerable in my work as a fiction writer than when working in the personal essay. If a reader doesn’t like a piece of autobiographical writing, sure, I feel rejected. But when a reader doesn’t like my fiction, I feel like my characters–who are like my children since no one but me “made” them–have been rejected. This is far, far worse.

But if we go with Lienhard–and I’m with him on this one–this risk, this vulnerability, is the price for offering something worth reading. So I guess I’ll just have to keep getting naked.


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