The Writer As Self-Critic

I write a fair amount of non-fiction, much of which is criticism, so you would think that I’d feel comfortable critiquing, interpreting, or at least explaining my own work. Ever since my new novel was published I’ve been asked to do just that, in fact. But I confess I find it incredibly hard and also emotionally taxing to act as self-critic, which is why I had to smile in recognition when I was reading this essay by Salman Rushdie in Outlook India last weekend.

The trouble begins with having to explain oneself. When I publish a book, my strong instinct is to absent myself completely, because at the moment of publication, the writer’s time with the book is at an end, and the reader’s time begins. You offer up your tale and then you want to hear from other people; the least interesting voice, at that moment, is your own. However—for such is the nature of the publishing industry—at the very moment when the author wishes to be invisible, he is required to be most visible. Every writer comes to dread the sound of his own voice repeating answers over and over again.

The effect, if the process goes on long enough (and it does, it does), is to alienate one from one’s own work.Publication comes to seem like the process by which the author is persuaded to detest his book, so that he has to begin writing another story to obliterate the one he can no longer bear to discuss.

And before you hit “Compose” on that email software: I do realize how fortunate I am to have a publisher, to be sent on tour around the country, to be translated, to be asked to talk about my work, and, most of all, to be read. My point is about the process of self-interpretation; that is what makes the essay so interesting to me.

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