Last night, my play had a public staged reading. People I didn’t know paid money to come and hear my work. They even laughed. It’s a comedy, so that was a relief.
Watching your work being read is slightly surreal. My writing process is often very auditory; sometimes I feel like I am simply transcribing the voices I hear. So when other people embody that and turn this into something other people can hear too… as I said, surreal. It’s not just me anymore.
What’s fascinating is how much evolves when someone else engages the work.
We all know that readers, or in this case the audience, comes in with their own baggage. Fiction writers can largely pretend that this doesn’t happen, unless they are presented with reviews or reader questions. But playwrights have to confront this reality; the work is not solely yours. It gets filtered through so many other people. Sometimes it’s surprising how different it ends up after the idea has gone on its long transition from writer to audience.
And yet, it’s also surprising that despite these evolutions, how much gets through exactly as it was in my head.
As writers, sometimes we can get obsessive over what the reader thinks, that they didn’t quite engage the work precisely the way we did. We turn into control freaks about it, turning it over in our minds trying to figure out what went wrong. Because we love the way we came into the work–why else write it? And we start to wonder, was it me? Did I not write this right? Do I need to pile in more words so that every reader gets it the way I want it to be? How can I make this so that everyone loves the work and my characters as much as I love them?
That’s where we have to stop.
Sure, it’s awesome when someone connects to your work. But what I see now is that there comes a point where the work is not mine. And it shouldn’t be.
Playwriting, fiction, poetry…. the reader will always bring their own stuff to the work and it will evolve into something else. Our job is not to dictate the reader’s experience, not to force them to accept a singular vision of the world we wrote, not to force them down narrow pathways with our words and hold the leash tight so they can’t go anywhere with it. We simply create the world and leave the rest to them. No one loves a regimented march the way they love a place that got to know and explore on their own terms.
As writers, we craft the cup. The reader pours in the liquid. As it always was, as it always should be.
I’ll drink to that.