Recently, I read an argument conducted online between a poet who had posted new work to his blog and one of his readers. The reader was generally praising the poet’s work, but also offered a critique of the new material based on their knowledge of the poet’s writing. The poet took exception with the comments, stating that, obviously, the reader hadn’t understood what the poet was trying to do, and didn’t know how to read what had been written. (Very poor form, by the way, to conduct an argument publicly online, but even worse to dismiss someone who has taken the time to read your writing and mainly compliment you for it…)
Now, while reading the book 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published & 14 Reasons Why It Just Might by Pat Walsh (Penguin Books, 2005), I have discovered the perfect quote as to why writers should never question how a reader interprets their work:
… the way an author interprets his own work may not be the way I do, which makes me feel like I am reading something wrong. The idea of reading something wrong is absurd, of course, because good writing encourages the reader’s imagination to participate in the story. Most authors love it when someone has a different (but still positive) interpretation of their work. p.48
We write to be read, pure and simple. We should graciously accept both praise and criticism equally (unless it’s offered in a mean-spirited way, and then that criticism should just be ignored) and, if it’s a case that we think someone is misreading our writing, perhaps we should consider instead that we haven’t written clearly enough so that others are able to understand our intent.
But we must never, ever, ever question or contradict someone who has taken the time to read and comment on what we’ve written.