Listening to Your Own Words

When you write for print — in blogs, newspapers, magazines or books — you usually have control over the content.  Not always, of course.  Any writer has horror stories about domineering editors who change your stories, interfere with your “voice,” distort your meaning.  (Writers, as a group, complain a lot.  If you haven’t been trampled on and rejected, if you’ve never spoken to a room full of empty chairs or waited to sign books that no one wanted to buy, you’re probably not a writer.  If you are a writer and have never had these experiences, please keep it to yourself.  Writers are also a catty and envious bunch.  No one wants to hear about your idyllic, easy experiences making it to the top.  No.  You should have to crawl and suffer and — ideally — get humiliated countless times along the way.  This builds character.  Have you ever seen Bambi Meets Godzilla?  You should know that writers never, ever identify with Godzilla.)

But I digress once again.  My original point was about controlling your work as a writer.

When you move outside the print world, you can kiss any sad little ideas of control adios.  All of a sudden, countless other people are involved in interpreting what you’ve written.  Producers, directors and actors all have their own ideas about interpretation.  I’ve written just a little for radio and television and performances — nothing big and nothing lucrative.  But I’ve had a few experiences in hearing my words interpreted in a way that makes me want to reconsider my stance against gun-ownership and the Second Amendment.

When your work gets performed, it can be ruined.  It can also — wonderfully and rarely — be transformed into something better than it was.  That’s what happened this week to something I wrote for the public radio comedy series 11 Central Ave.  To hear something go from random voices talking in my head (which sounds like a dire psychiatric problem) to a polished, funny performance is magical for me.  Part of it is because of the writing and editing of the series’ creator, Sue Shepherd, but much of it is owing to the brilliance of a very funny cast.

I listened to it on the radio this morning and couldn’t think of a single complaint.  It was pure pleasure — and a reminder of why I love what I do.  Please listen to it if you have a chance:  It’s episode #67.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

1 comment… add one
  • Being a writer sounds terrible. I’m so glad I’m an author. The ’empty room syndrome’ only exists if you fail to target your real audience. Writers tend to forget, a lot of rejection comes from failing to market to the right people. This alone makes it much easier to fail than to succeed.

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