Open Gently

Musings on the introspective life.

Your Best Reader May Be Yourself

In the age of the blog, we lust for views. But don't forget your best audience.

We've all wondered how Emily Dickinson could write her poetry in near-complete solitude.

It's less commonly known that even Emily sought an important reader, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and once wrote him that he was "The Friend that saved my Life."

The two only met twice, and Higginson is said to have told others that he never met anyone "who drained my nerve power so much."

Yet they maintained a correspondence for 25 years until her death in 1886. She sent him almost a hundred poems, with their strange punctuation and penetrating power.

Higginson was famous as a man who hated capital punishment, child labor, laws depriving women of civil rights, and slavery. Emily was a radical in her heart and mind. Higginson was radical in his speeches and published writing and even took a little action. (For more on their fascinating story, read White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, by Brenda Wineapple.) 

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So yes, even Emily Dickinson sought one person who could understand her.

For years I resisted blogging. I had been trained to think that one should allow the public to see only highly polished work. The idea back then was that you spent years, decades, honing your craft with a small circle of confidantes before you expected public attention. After all, no one expected audiences (other than friends and family) in their apprenticeship years as a violinist, ballerina, tennis player, or singer. Those are physical skills, which makes a difference. But writing depends on insight and insight comes with the years. Writing is one art form where age should be on your side.

So for many years I rarely sought to publish, though I did give my work to loyal, responsive and insightful friends. I was also enormously lucky to have a mother who wrote and supported my ambitions. And I hired teachers, a short story writer and a poet, to read my work and meet with me one-on-one. When I did begin to send out my work, I had some success.

The world changed. I am now a blogger, and like all bloggers, I'm excited to see my stats. Sometimes I get large numbers of "views"---unheard of numbers of potential readers judged by our pre-Internet standards.

But the real joy is in the one-on-one connections that can be made. When I help younger journalists or clients, I carefully copy-edit, line-edit, critique, or brainstorm with them. I hope to give them all the benefit of the compassion, insight and expertise I've experienced in my own life. Meanwhile, I hope they will seek their artist family in literature, in writing groups, book groups and online.

That one-on-one connection can be with yourself. In my own life, the appreciation that has most surprised and gratified me has been myself many years later. I read my stories and poems from years ago and feel comforted by the wisdom of that child. She knew me.

And that's when I understand how Emily was able to go so long in near-solitude.

Writing is a form of love. Self-love and love of others, and as we see in other relationships, the two intermingle. We love ourselves through our love of others. We love others through our love of ourselves. 

So yes, we write to be read. And when that reader is you, you are not alone.

For editing or writing coaching, write me at expertediting.com. 

 

Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.

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