The Alchemy of the Written Word

The sacred unity of writer and reader

Mar 11, 2023

Writing Artist Art Personal Growth Reflections
painting of two human hands reaching

Photo by Claudio Schwarz

I’ve been thinking a lot about “writer identity” lately. How we come to see ourselves as writers. What type of writers we think we are or are not. As much as I don’t want to be boxed in, I also understand that the whole point of branding and self-marketing is, by definition, putting ourselves into some type of recognizable box that readers can connect with. We certainly can’t be everything to everyone, and we shouldn’t be. Figuring out our niche is key to finding our tribe.

When I asked about this in a writer’s community group I recently joined, the response I received was to think through the lens of my ideal reader… what person do I want to reach with my words? After reflecting on this, I realized the only reader I typically had in my mind while writing was a critic, someone ready to verbally attack me and my incompetence as a writer. I pictured all the ways my writing would be put down for this reason or that, all of which sounded credible. And I had to stop and ask myself—why?

I’ve always had a pretty strong superego (not to be confused with a “super ego”). The part of me that self-criticizes and reels me back in with judgment. So it made sense to me that in writing, I projected this onto my reader, thinking they, too, must be judging me and what I have to say. It was such a natural tendency of mine that I thought, how could they not be? But in digging a little deeper, I found that it extended beyond this simple psychospeak.

It boiled down to this: self-defense mechanism.

Turns out, I picture a critic when I write to protect myself against any criticism or judgment that may come. Put another way, it’s as if I’m bracing myself ahead of time for any potentially hostile opinions that might hurt me, being HSP as I am. If I can come up with every possible negative thing that could be said about my piece or my writing, I wouldn’t be surprised or as hurt. It would reduce the burn. But would it, really?

What if, instead, I pictured a reader who would be moved by my words? Someone who needed to hear them? As I write this, I can hear the critic intervening… “who are you to think of yourself so highly as to move people with your words?” It’s hard to ignore that voice. But perhaps, it’s time to give my ideal reader a voice, too. Because that person exists, somewhere, at this very moment.

As writers, we have to believe in the sacred unity of writer and reader—the coming together of words that need to be written and the ears that need to hear them.

There is a wondrous alchemy that takes place during the writing process wherein ordinary words, meaningless on their own, transform into something invaluable when strung together into a finished whole, ready to be consumed. It is the meeting of two wandering souls, both yearning for answers, both determined to find them.

We have absolutely no control of how our words will affect the reader, or even if they will. The best we can do is combine thought and idea with heartfelt intention and hope and then knead these into form using the written word. We try to express what we want to say within the limitations of language, infusing it with our beliefs and unique vantage point. And we pray, somewhere in there, the muse shows up and adds her heavenly touch. Otherwise, we’re just babbling.

And so, what person do I want to reach with my words?

The one seeking something deeper. The one on the journey of personal growth and self-discovery. The one asking the big, unnerving questions and wondering how to be human in a world designed to strip us of our humanity. If that’s you—and even if it’s not—welcome. Take a seat, rest your head and heart for a while. Tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine. Tell me all the things you have grieved over and how life’s aches have changed you. I want to know what you hold on to when everything feels hopeless. Share with me what you still believe in, after all this time, after all the illusions have dissolved. I hope you find respite here in this sojourn, and encouragement to keep showing up for the life you crave, to keep peeling the layers until you arrive at your authentic self. I am right there with you, doing the work to self-actualize… to find my way back home.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.