Analogy of an Egg: Critic, Reader and Book Group

This essay is about developing an awareness of how your writing is going to be read in the world.

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An egg is at once a yoke and an albumen (or white) encased in a shell. If you think about each passage in your writing as an egg, there is description (albumen) and there is action (yoke). These are encased in sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and so on.

Out of a fertilised egg is born a chick, a living thing which is other to the components of the egg. The critic will break open sentences, paragraphs and chapters, in order to divide description from action, as one might separate yoke from white, in order to bake something of their own. In doing so, they will lose the potential for the newborn chick. The reader, in contrast, will fertilise the whole with their imagination and allow life to flourish beyond the constituent parts.

The critic can create a meringue from the white or a custard from the yoke; with more ingredients, a sumptious cake might result by using the flour of Marxism and the fruit of psychoanalysis.

The reader refrains from invasive actions like these, content to watch the magic of life unfold and to share in their joy with other readers, admiring the chick, noticing where it is missing feathers, or pitying a failure to thrive, but resisting for the most part a full-blown dissection.

Between critic and reader is the book group, some do dissect the chick, while others happily retain a less invasive approach to the text. These people are all potential markets for your book.

To choose to feed the critic, at the detriment of the reader or the book group is likely an unwise move, because few writers are taken under the wing of academics and critics.

The primary focus for most writers should be the common reader; appealing to other writers is also a wise move if you are to be noticed by those running competitions and seeking contributions to literary magazines. Although editors might direct you otherwise, since readers do not always seek what writers and writing groups think they seek, or not so singularly anyhow.

The real coup comes if you can jump from entertaining single readers to finding yourself read by reading groups, where your market expands from one reader into a gathering. There have been books published that go so far as to include notes for book groups to encourage an adoption by reading groups. This can seem presumptious, especially for an unknown writer, and not something to necessarily be encouraged, but this doesn’t mean that an awareness of the importance of reading groups should be ignored.

You are free to deny an interest in markets and to focus solely on your writing. Equally you are free to leverage this awareness and keep in mind the contexts in which your books might be read. This is not my decision, my role is to simply encourage you to think about what happens to your writing in the world.

Anthony Levings is a writer compelled by capturing moments in time and history.

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