I have just finished a book by an author that I have previously adored and this, well, this book is thin. I'm not going to review it here because first of all I'm afraid that I'm in danger of appearing a crank who is never satisfied by anything (except that's not true, I adored "The King's Speech). Anyway, as I internally grumbled through this book, wondering why I wasn't more wowed, I came to one of my epiphanies about writing: the balancing act you must do with your ego.
The book in question has far too much ego. There really was such a plethora of the "I" that it left no room for me, the reader. That is always the danger of writing in first person, where you feel you're at a performance, but the artist is only playing for themselves. And yes, there is a certain truth to the notion that you have to write for yourself. But honestly, what we're really talking about is not writing for the market because the second you decide to write for the market, the market you're writing for has changed. If you wrote only for yourself then you wouldn't try to get published, or set up stat counters, or obsessively check your amazon numbers, or any of the above. Not that I've done that, you understand. That was the real strength of Keith Richards' autobiography: he articulated so perfectly that bridge we all strive for between the artist and the audience.
Now Keith Richards is a much, much better guitar player than I am a writer, but I do understand what he means. Every once in a blue moon that happens to me, where the "I" in me becomes a "we." And let's be honest. It's the people with the ego up the ass who tend to succeed as artists. Because they tend to be pugnacious and driven and a little obsessive. Although usually a mass of insecurities, they also have a balls-to-the-wall quality about them that ignores the nagging insecurities that stop most normal people. They really want to reach all those anonymous people. At least I do. I want you to read something and experience it the way that I want you to experience it. In some ways it's all ego and it's also ego less, because when you put your art out there to share, it's about the we. Aren't we having fun? Aren't we both so sad? Aren't we both just in awe with what's happening on the page? It's no fun with just one.
And I think when a book doesn't work is when the artist trips over that line. Where the "I" stays an "I" and doesn't ever turn into the "we." Where that divide between what is in your brain and your heart is never bridged. It's as if you're still standing on one side of the abyss and your audience is on the other side of the abyss, and although you ordered that bridge, it hasn't come yet. But I'm sure that FedEx will deliver it any second now.