Writing is a discipline of unintentional instruction. I don’t think many self-respecting writers will tell you that they have all the answers and that by reading their books you will glean the most valuable pieces of wisdom that will help you life a better and more fulfilled life. But that’s the funny thing – it happens all the time anyway. You can’t control it. When you read, you learn, even if the writer had no intention of teaching you.
That’s because, aside from the many different other ways we learn about ourselves, our existence, and everything else, we learn vicariously through the lives and examples of other people. While nobody’s life is more valuable than another’s, the great thing about stories vs. real people is that you can stretch a person to their limits and see what they’re made of without causing any real damage to an actual human being. You can put yourself in their shoes and wonder “if I’m ever in this situation, how would I act? How would I want myself to act? Would I measure up?” Reading other people’s stories widens your point of view, expands your idea of what it means to be human, a man, a woman, neither.
That being said, I want to openly declare my attention to ruin your life.
I don’t want you to read my stories and laugh. I mean, yes, of course a chuckle would be good, since I’m a humor writer among other things, but I want more. I want to ruin your public persona because you are on a bus and can’t stop laughing and everyone thinks you’re nuts. When you run for president ten years later, I want to ruin your campaign because someone came of the woodwork and say “I saw that psycho ten years ago giggling to himself on a bus!”
I don’t want to distract you from your life, I want to ruin it. I want to shake it at the foundations because you see something in one of my characters that reminds me of you. Or your mom. Or your brother. Or that guy on the corner who you always ignore but now maybe you want to say hi to.
I don’t want you to read my stories in your spare time. I want you to stay up late, give up a few hours of sleep, because you’re too busy reading. I want you to give someone important in your life that really irritating “mm hmm” answer because your nose is so deep in one of my stories you can smell the characters’ body odor. I want you to suddenly realize it’s 5PM and you haven’t eaten anything in three days because, shit, this book is good.
In short, I don’t want you to read my stories. That’s a cheap aspiration. I want my stories to shake something inside of you to the point where your life is different because of something I wrote. Entertaining is good – we all need to be entertained from time to time. But ruining your life? That’s better.
Maybe it’s an arrogant goal, but I feel like I’m not serving you as a reader unless I’m working toward it. I may never get there, of course. None of this has been about how good I am or how good I think I can be. Just about how good I want to be.