Thursday, May 21, 2009

Leap of Faith

This past Sunday I blogged about "invisible editors" -- those nameless, faceless people who edited some of the most important children's books of the past and sometimes even changed the lives of aspiring writers by scrawling a line or two of advice on a rejection slip.

Today I'm thinking about invisible readers.

A friend once told me that, as part of a project sponsored by her synagogue, she used to write letters to Jewish families in Russia.

I said, "That must have been interesting. What were their letters like?"

"Oh, we never got any letters back from them!"

She explained that in those days before perestroika, Soviet Jews were forced to practice their religion underground. Letters written by my friend and her group were smuggled into the country and covertly shared with members of the faith as a show of community and support.

"That must have been odd," I said, "writing into a vacuum."

"It was like a one-sided conversation."

"What did you write about?"

"At first I mostly talked about the Jewish holidays and how we celebrate them here," she said. "But after that topic ran out, I had to dig pretty deep. And when I realized they weren't going to question anything I said, weren't going to judge me -- weren't going to answer at all!-- I found myself opening up a lot more than I expected, sharing things I wouldn't ordinarily share and revealing things about myself I wouldn't normally reveal. It was kind of...freeing. Liberating."

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. I understand things are much easier for Jewish families now living in that region. I have not seen my friend for several years, but I've often thought of what a unique experience it must have been -- writing to invisible readers, sharing secrets with strangers.

But it recently struck me that perhaps her experience wasn't unique at all.

Aren't most writers in the same situation?

Whether writing a letter or a novel or even a blog...

Whether motivated by a need to share, a sense of ego, or the conviction that one has something important to say...

Every time a writer puts pen to paper, they are making a leap of faith, unsure -- yet desperately hoping -- there will be an invisible reader on the other side.


Sam said...

Very interesting post.

That's absolutely what writing is about and part of what makes an unpublished manuscript so heartbreaking for the author.

Even when a book does get published, you're left wondering how many people read it and how people you need to read it before you can call it all worthwhile.

Robin Gaphni said...

What a timely post. As someone who is new to the blogging world, you do wonder sometimes who is reading your words. But as someone who loves to write, you have to try and push those thoughts aside and carry on.
Thank you.

Bill said...

In Amnesty International's original practice, many people wrote letters to government officials in countries holding prisoners for political reasons. Those letters often had the effect of increasing local and administrative awareness of the prisoners. Conditions of lifefor the prisoner and respect for the person as a person often increased. A surprising number of people were released after more attention was paid. These letters were usually not answered.