“The great learning is rooted in watching with affection the way people grow.”
This week, I discovered my reader. As an author, the book I’m working on is my job. I am by no means just an author, and it is not actually what pays the bills, but this book does occupy my attention, puts me to work for an hour every morning. It is meaningful work because my attention is directed at a subject I care about, but it was already clear to me before taking up the project again that, at the beginning, I would be struggling with something very central: my image of the reader. It’s a book about academic writing, so my reader would obviously be an “academic”, but what does this really mean, and what do I think of academics? How do I actually feel about my reader?
I’ve always wanted the book to be as useful to scholars as it is to students. That is, I don’t want to describe “academic writing” differently when I talk to students and when I talk to scholars. Academic writing is always writing for your peers, whether they are colleagues or classmates. But what do I really mean when I say this? How are they connected? I don’t want to give too much away, but I think I came up with something useful this week. Academics are knowledgeable people and knowledge comes from learning. Students are learners; scholars are learnèd. But this does not mean that students don’t know anything, nor that scholars don’t still have a lot to learn. That is, I am writing for people who know a great deal but who are also learning. And I want to show them how writing can support this project.
A book employs an author but implies a reader. It “implicates” the reader in the author’s project and the author can lose the reader by implying things that the reader cannot identify with. There is always a danger that my readers will feel that I think they are ignorant or stupid, or cowardly or lazy. The truth is that I think they are. But only because, like me, they’re human. I have a great affection for them. We can always do better and becoming a better writer is a kind of self-improvement. The challenge of a book like this is to invite the reader to grow without insulting them. It’s going to take some work.