Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I do not think it means what you think it means

And for ther is so gret diversite
In Englissh and in writyng of oure tonge
So prey I God that non myswrite the, 
Ne the mysmetre for defaute of tonge.
(Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, 5.1793-1796)

Poor Geoffrey. So worried that some scribe was going to miscopy his poem. And the perils of popularity meant that the more people liked his writing, the more copies would be made, and the greater the chance that scribal error would get into the manuscript somewhere.

Scribal error is less of a concern for the modern writer. I mean, sure, you may well miss something while copy-editing. But it's not like we have to worry about a scriptorium of monks copying out our 250K word epic fantasies. Our concern is with interpretation.

All writing is a collaboration between an author and a reader. And so I wonder sometimes, about whether or not my meaning is getting through. Particularly as I begin to confront the reality of publication, I think about whether the people who read this will understand what I am trying to tell them? Will they know what it means, this thing I am writing, this part of me that I am sharing?

The answer, of course, is no. Not perfectly, anyway. Each reader brings something different, will see things in a different way. Maybe they will find things that I didn't know were there. Maybe they will interpret my writing in a way I think is wrong, completely unsupported by what's in the text. (I've taught freshmen enough to know this happens.) Maybe they will find things they think should never be written about.

I can't worry about this. If I do, I will never write. 

Which is what I am going to go do, as the writer's block has lifted, and the novel has very kindly let me know what needs to happen next.

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