Your Book is Not Finished Until It's Read
I. Am. Canadian!
And a couple things that many Canadians hold as beacons of our culture are hockey and The Tragically Hip. Perhaps I'm revealing my age here, but this band is remembered by Canadians as one of the most genuinely Canadian things to grace the world stage.
Meaning they were excellent but mostly ignored by the world stage.
I remember my dad taking my sister and me to one of their concerts as kids. It's still one of my favorite memories with him, and even though he never went to another with us again, she and I made a thing of going to every concert we could.
That makes it sound like my dad is dead. He's not. Just grumpy.
Many Canadians have fond memories of The Tragically Hip. During the band's last concert in Kingston, Ontario, on August 20th, 2016, Canada wept as the lead singer, Gord Downie, who had been battling brain cancer for some time, said farewell. Farewell to the 11.7 million fans who tuned in, and farewell to the life he realized he would be tuning out of. He died just over a year later.
Read more about the legacy of "Canada's Band" in the book by Michael Barclay:
The Tragically Hip was such an important part of Canadian culture for so many Canadians because the band was one of the few that sang about Canada and Canadian people, places, and things. They were made in Canada for Canada and never lost sight of their audience over their 33 years.
And that audience loved them for it. They had a shared meaning with their audience. You might not get it, but Canadians of a certain age got it. Shared meaning.
The Song is Not Complete
In an interview I read (or saw, I don't remember it was a long time ago), Gord Downie told the interviewer that his song was never finished until the moment he got on stage and sang it for the crowd.
Their involvement—their energy directed where he would take the song, how he would sing it, how he would perform. Only then was the song finished, and every time he performed it, he would finish it differently.
And I can attest to this, as someone who attended more Tragically Hip concerts than I can count. He never did perform the same song the same way twice. Sometimes he would add elements, take elements away, change the tempo, go crazy, become demure, and stop singing to chat. It was always a new experience.
(Audio of Gord Downie vearing off into a weird story about a killer whale during a show in '91)
And here is where I finally tell you why this applies to your writing.
Music is performative, but so is writing. Only you aren't there for the live performance. The reader witnesses the show on their own, but you best believe that every time you "perform" (your book is read), the performance is a unique one.
In a way, your book is not finished until it is read. It is only a half-baked cookie.
I might be heading into "if a tree falls in the forest" territory, but hear me out.
The Tragically Hip made such an impact because they shared Canada with the audience. They made Canadians feel like they had a voice. We all had something in common with each other.
But this means you have to actually share something with your audience. What meaning are you sharing?
Is what you're sharing for them, or is it for you? Are you writing a story you think is cool and hoping others think it too, so they can pat you on the back for it? Or are you writing to find a connection with your audience on something meaningful to you?
THAT is why you need to be specific about your audience. Not so the publisher can market more efficiently. But because you need to find this person, this particular group of people who you can relate to.
The Tragically Hip never did so well outside of Canada. They never broke into any other market. But that's because they didn't share meaning with the people in those other markets. They shared meaning with us. And we loved them for it.
So discover who it is you are reaching out to with your book. So they can finish it for you when they read it. And because they share that meaning with you, the performance will be unforgettable.
That's my two cents for the day. Just a thought on my mind as Gord Downie tells me that the kids aren't alright. Guess his music is still at work.
(Because of the line "...so full of meaning as to almost make it glow." Seemed fitting.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tessa Barron is the Editor-in-Chief at Foul Fantasy Fiction and Bear Hill Publishing. She specializes in developmental editing and writes Fantasy and Science Fiction when she is able to find the time under the pen name Turi T. Armstrong.