I'm the boss of you, and don't tell me I'm not. You come to me, for me to be the boss of you. You're a reader. You search for authority, for that voice that can sweep you off your feet, swallow you whole, make you raise your head from the book, hours later, wondering what hit you. You look for it, in every book. You open it, you hope for it. It's why you read. And here I am, a writer. I'm at your mercy. You can toss my book into a swamp, you can use it as a door stopper. You can burn it. Worst of all, you can open it, glance at a sentence or two, and never read it.
You have authority over me.
Yet I have authority over you.
That is, if I have it. If I do, I will catch you with my net. I won't let you go until you're exhausted, until your eyes hurt and you start sticking matches between your eyelids to keep them open. You will walk with my book into traffic. Cars will stop inches from you, honk at you, you won't hear. You will tumble into open manholes and continue reading. My words are just your palate. My sentences your relish. My stories your tin of canned sardines because you loved canned sardines since you were five. You are under my authority. If I know what I'm doing. If I sweat over every sentence. If I don't mince words, if I talk directly to you, from heart to heart, from head to head. If I suffer over every decision I make, strive for clarity, directness, richness that will not overpower you, will make you feel like you ate a slice of your favorite cake, rich, creamy, but just right, sweet, but not too sweet. Perfect. You look for it. You want it.
You want me to give it to you.
I want to give it to you.
I write day in and day out to make it as good as I can. To give you my authority, so you will follow me, to the end of my days, end of my books, forever and ever and ever, and we will stay together like this until there is nothing left of us, and you will want to reread me, because you can't have enough, because although you can close my book at any moment, you want to come back, to be led, into that world I created.
WHY DO YOU READ MY BOOKS? BECAUSE YOU TRUST ME.
You trust me to take your breath away, your mind, your everything. You want it. Why? Because I don't lie. Because I'm me. Because what I notice in this world is important to me, and I write about it, and you know you will find it. The real it. Not the fake it. Because I learned to trust myself, as a writer. I learned that what I notice around me is important for a very simple reason. Because it's important to me. That's it.
Now, where do you find that authority? Why some books you open, frown, and put back on the shelf in the bookstore with that guilty shifty look? Why didn't they speak to you? Why some grab you and carry you away and you drown in them and some don't? It's very simple. Are you ready? Hold on to your chair, your bra, your puppies, your elderly grandmother. Hold on to something, because you're in for a shocker.
WRITER'S AUTHORITY COMES FROM WRITING.
Well, shit. Now you will bury me in a pile of stinky ferrets. Don't. Not yet, okay? Let me explain. It comes from the actual writing, not the story, the meaning of it, the characters, the plot, the setting, the exposition, the backstory, the ruminations, the explanations, the mammon of your prose or its paucity, your wide vocabulary, your excellent grammar, none of these things. What then? Writing. The way your words stack, the way they form sentences, the way sentences flow into one another. The ring. The rhythm. The music. You must be able to open a book on any page, read any small passage, any sentence, any part of it, and feel it.
There is a voice there. It must be present. Everywhere. And how can it be present everywhere? This is how. You must be sweating. Panting. Bleeding. Squirming over every word choice, every sentence. Every tiny part of your writing. There can't be any interruptions. This is why writing well is so hard. It takes time.
Trust your reader. YOU are the reader. YOU are your book's first reader. Trust yourself. Don't overdo it. Don't over-explain, over-describe, over-anything. Leave things unsaid, let the reader finish them in her mind. It's what she wants. It's what you want. You don't over-explain things to yourself when you think, do you? Then why torture your reader? Your reader deserves better.
Notice your thoughts. They are important. Because they are important to YOU. Make away with belittling yourself, with demurral. Ditch ambiguity. Say it as it is, in your head. The only thing you need to learn is how to say it clearly. The only way you can do it is by writing a lot, and rewriting a lot. Always trusting yourself, as a reader. If anything makes you cringe, anything at all, try to make it better. If you can't, don't worry, move on. You will get better in your next book, and your next, and your next. The important thing is, you cringed. That's it. That's the reader in you, telling you something. Listen to that reader and to that reader only. There will be a time when you read what you wrote and it will astound you. A couple words, perhaps a sentence, perhaps a couple sentences. They will ring different. Sharp. Unreal. You will think, did I write this? DID I REALLY WRITE THIS?!? It made me FEEL. It was real. Right there. You did it! Now, do more of it.
One day almost all of your writing will feel like that. Mine too. I'm still working on mine. Every day. Doing the best I can. Noticing. Learning how to give you my authority, how to trust myself, how to trust you. It's hard. It's painful. It takes time. So, don't despair. Let's do this together, let's search for and find out writerly authority.