Reader Response - by Donna
“…even though I'm a stranger to you... your writing makes me feel like you're not a stranger to me."
- reader's email communication
As a writer, I enjoy control over my little imaginary world. I decide who falls in love. Who dies. What characters look like on the outside and, even more importantly, who they are on the inside. I can choose what they say and what they do. I can even select their eventual fate. But when a book leaves my writer brain and goes out into the world of readers, change happens--a change far outside my control. It is no longer about what I wrote. Now it is about the interaction between what I wrote and the reader. That reader, whoever he or she is, brings all their experiences, likes, dislikes, and passions to the words I wrote on the page.
As a reading teacher, I knew this change would happen. But I "knew" it in a generic, academic sort of way. I didn't know how it would feel from the author's perspective.
And sometimes it feels like loosing control. A very uncomfortable feeling for those of us who enjoy being in control.
I also didn't expect to hear from readers who could instantly share that interaction with my text immediately and passionately through various forms of social media.The contact I receive from readers ranges from being encouraging, maddening, heartbreaking, and sometimes even... odd. For an avowed introvert, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. When I open my email, I sometimes feel a bit like this:
Some emails haunt me with personal stories and connections to complete strangers I will probably never meet. Here's some examples ...
"I'm not writing this email to tell you about your own book...I'm writing it to tell you that it really opened my eyes. You see, Ever was over 300 pounds, yet to me she was still beautiful. To me everyones beautiful. That is, everyone but me. I'm really insecure about myself and my body. Even though I'm not heavy, I see these girls on T.V and in magazines and I just...I feel like society has created this "perfect girl". And that "perfect girl"...I will never become her."
"I constantly pray to just be taken away from this world, but there has to be a reason I'm here. Your book taught me that; it showed me that if I hold on a little longer, just a little longer, something wonderful and magical can happen. If Ever killed herself she would have wasted such a talented and wonderful life. I don't want to waste my life.
"I turn thirty this year, yet I still see myself in this fifteen year old girl. The way she looks at herself is the way that I look at myself. The way that she pushes away the world is the same way that I push away the world. Ever is me."
"Reading a book that it telling your story is scary but it has given me space this afternoon to just be with a character who understands, who is going through the same as I am, feeling the same as me and has made me feel less isolated and alone. Tomorrow I am going to give my best friend your book and hopefully she will begin to understand the relationship I have with my own Skinny."
Not all the emails are positive, but no matter what the message, I feel incredibly blessed to hear from readers who read my story and felt compelled to respond in some way to the person who wrote it.
As a writer, how do you feel about personal messages from readers? Do you respond?
Would it (or did it) change how you write in the future?