A truth that I’ve come across many times over the years and passed on to me by writers much more experienced and intelligent than I and that I feel is apropos in these times:
Just because you wrote a piece of fiction doesn’t mean you own the only true way of reading/interpreting/understanding that piece of fiction. It is, in fact, one of the most wonderful and frightening things about being a writer that we do not.
We may own the copyright on the words we strung together in that particular way, but we do not own reader reactions to that, be they good or bad. We may get a real thrill from positive reactions, and we may learn new things from honest criticism, discussion, and dissection of our work. But we may not privilege those reactions above the ones that hurt us most: the negative, the violently opposed, and the ones that result in OUR hurting someone else.
You cannot distance yourself from the culpability you have in hurting others with your fiction if you are not willing to distance yourself from the good feelings that come with giving joy and understanding. You can talk about intent all you like — and don’t misunderstand me, intent is important, it is just not primarily important — but in the end your intent is worth nothing if you cannot own all of the results of your efforts.
That doesn’t mean you need to take it all in to yourself, beat yourself up, or label yourself as bad, bigoted, evil, or wrong. What it does mean is that you need to ask: How did I fuck up? Is there some way I could have avoided fucking up? Will you give me a chance to prove I will not fuck up in exactly this way again, and will do my best to not fuck up in other, related ways? Will you accept that I am a work in progress even if I do?
If you ask these questions in all sincerity, the answer will probably be: Yes.
More love than you probably understand I’m giving you,