Okay, now that old song will be stuck in my head for a week. And probably yours too. Apologies.
Lately, my Shakespeare class has been focused on the responsibilities of editors, both in the Early Modern period and today. We even got the chance to role-play as editors ourselves, making choices about which version of a speech from Othello we would use as our original source, or “copy text”, and then updating spelling and punctuation to create the clearest and richest version of the text. Doing this for myself led me to a fresh understanding of Othello’s character, because of the intense focus on detail required to come to what I felt to be the most honest and meaningful interpretation. I solemnly swear I will never ignore a footnote again.
After doing it for myself, I got to read some interpretations from other students, all of which differed radically from mine, but all of which, when I read the “footnotes” provided, were just as considered and legitimate as mine. When my mind stopped blowing, I was left with this thought: No two people will ever read a work in the same way. We all bring our own attitudes and experiences to bear on everything we read, and those things are as unique as the irises of our eyes.
Now, I know that’s not a particularly new thought, and it has certainly been more eloquently phrased by better people than me. But for writers, I feel like this is an important thing to grasp, and perhaps one to which we all need to give more thought.
We may be writing something with a very definite message in mind, one that we want to get across to people, but once that work goes out into the world, it’s out of our hands. People will make of it what they will, depending on their own unique worldview. So don’t stress too much about it. Don’t get such a strangle-hold on your own writing that nobody else has the chance to interact with it and change it into “something new and strange”. Don’t be afraid that people won’t understand. Some of them won’t. But some of them will. Some will understand more than even you. That’s when the process becomes magical; when the work becomes bigger than itself.
Hold on loosely, people. That’s my two cents-worth for today. Now make of it what you will.