This past summer, I attended Katrina Kittle’s local reading and signing of her latest awesome novel, “The Blessings of the Animals.” The reading was superb, the author was entertaining. Then came the question and answer portion of the program. Katrina was generous as usual, answering questions about the new book, her previous books, where the words come from, how much of the book came from personal experience, and so forth.
Then one woman raised her hand, and after a question, thanked Katrina for her last novel, “The Kindness of Strangers.” The fan said the thanks was for this reason: at one point while reading the book, she had to “go outside and vomit.”
High praise indeed.
After we all laughed, Katrina said she was flattered. She expressed it well when she said it made her feel honored. I would have felt honored, too.
The incident was related to a particular scene in the book, the central issue of which is child abuse. The reality portrayed in that scene evoked such deep emotion that the reader felt moved to the point of illness. It was so well written, and portrayed with brutal honesty the hard truths about such a difficult topic, that the reader’s response was emotional and immediate. The writing made a memorable impact.
That’s one thing writers want. Strip away reasons like the occasional fame, the integrity of the struggle, and the accomplishment of publication. Whether it’s one reader or the world, writers want make an impact through their words.
An article I wrote a while back about finding time to write prompted a letter to the editor of the magazine where it appeared. The writer thanked me and said that because of reading it, she was inspired to return to writing and making it a priority in her life once again. I was humbled and thankful that my words moved someone in a such a way…that my writing had an impact.
One can measure impact through book sales, Q-ratings, signing tours and personal appearances. It’s true all have value in measuring the extent of a book’s reach or impressions made. However the numbers add up, one certain way to prove a writer’s words have had an impact is for a reader acknowledge she’s been moved so deeply it resulted in physical discomfort.
If a reader feels changed in any way, moved to tears or anger, or even has to throw up after reading something I’ve written (as long it’s not because the writing is so bad), then I’ve done my job as a writer. And that feels unapologetically good.
To know that your writing has had an impact is a treasure, and one I would hope all writers would come to know in some way…whether or not it involves the expungement of gastrointestinal juices.