On more than one occasion I have heard the idea that, as a writer, you participate in a conversation with those who have gone before you. (Yep, by writing this right now I'm communing with Charles Dickens.) I've heard that everything written is a response to whatever has gone before, and that it's also a response to the times in which the writer lives.
Which sounds just ducky to me. I like thinking about the writing tradition that I'm a part of. I like the idea that, even though I'm blogging in the living room right now in full view of my children and the television, I am doing the same thing that Jane Austen did in her drawing room...right before she hid it under her sewing whenever someone came in. I like the idea that times have switched up so much but I'm still doing what she did, only differently. (Okay, I know I'm no Jane Austen, but you know what I mean.)
And then I read a little book called Conversations With American Women Writers by Sarah Anne Johnson. The whole book is sets of interviews with, well, contemporary American women writers (no points for creativity on the title, I guess). In the introduction Johnson states that one of the biggest reasons that she interviewed these writers was "In addition to easing a bit of that isolation among readers and writers...these interviews demonstrate that there is always more to understand about a piece of fiction."
That comment caught my attention because, in reality, the only authors with whom we can have conversations--real, responsive conversations--are the living ones. Dickens and Austen are, unfortunately, not with us anymore except through their writing. We can't interview them and understand more about their pieces through them. It's now all the readers and whatever correspondence the writers may have left behind about their work.
The conversation is sadly one-sided, and eventually, will always be. Jane Austen can't respond to the slew of sequel-writing, zombie-adding writers...anymore than they will be able to respond to the writers that follow them in one hundred years.
So my thought-process while facing all these somewhat depressing ideas is this: Leave it on the page. Write clearly. Write a lot. Because in this conversation all you've got is the writing.
...and maybe get rid of those notebooks that posterity might "Eh?" at you for....