The following was a response to a blog post from a fellow writer, titled "Do Readers Have the Upper Hand?", several years ago. (The question was referring to how much a reader can know about a writer when s/he reads his or her books.) I've added a bit here and there for this blog post, but it is essentially the same.
No. Of course not. No one can possibly know what you don't want him/her to know. They can think they do. They can make a good guess. But they cannot know what you do not tell them even if they can read between the lines. There are messages between the lines, yes. There are also messages withheld by the writer- not between the lines.
Try it. Create a new blog under a new name. Write only about food. Or love. Or 19th century English novels. Or write about anything from one perspective: a chocolate lover, a spiritual seeker, an animal activist. There will be readers who genuinely think and say they know all about you based on this one aspect - this one kind of writing.
The writer of any given piece is not necessarily the same as the person who writes it.
When I wrote “Out of Town Visitor” (http://bit.ly/pLVNpB) many people who read it thought I was mean. Not a nice person. All of these people were outside the entertainment industry. Few knew of the other things I write. None were what I would call professionals in their fields. Those who were, generally responded very well to it. In other of my blog posts, here on the Red Room and elsewhere, the ones on mothering, the ones about care, (http://bit.ly/9fQnA7) drew a completely different response. I am a nice person, apparently, for loving my sons.
The fact is, you announce who you are in the subjects you choose to write about and the things you say about a particular piece of the universe. This tells your reader how to look at you - and whatever labels, values, definitions they have assigned to that "how" ( e.g. writers are always absent minded/intelligent/out of it/inept etc) - is the lens through which they will view what you have to say.
"Mother" will elicit an entirely different response because it offers the reader an entirely different lens. We give our readers binoculars by what we choose - subject and words. No one who knew me as a Welsh-speaking Welsh resident in a tiny village (which I am) could possibly know me as a Hollywood writer or a Hollywood wife (which I also am).
No one who knows me as the passionate parent I am could know anything about my internal life as a nun. No one who read Gerard Jones' blog "Pro-Jewish Bloggers" to which I responded by saying (among other things): "I love Judaism because of its arguments, its passions, its intense familial connection…* would envisage me in my choir robe with academic hood on Founder's Day, singing (in English) the alto part in Bread of Heaven in a British Anglican University Chapel, or in the Welsh Choir at Christmas, singing Cwm Rhondda, the same hymn, (in Welsh).
Nor could they, given the above, imagine the affinity between Amjad Mohammed and me – or gather from my writing that we could be such friends and meet at the local café to eat halal kebobs together and talk about metaphysics every week.
Neither is this necessary - all this knowing. The text should stand on its own. A worthy piece is a worthy piece whether the writer grows watermelons or is on the Board of Directors of an investment firm. Pieces that claim to be authoritative of course, might need some substantiation - the writer's background (but only in that field) is significant then. But with fiction, poetry, non-fiction opinion pieces, it is completely irrelevant.
Which is lucky - because nobody knows anything about authors from their work, really. Or not much. They just assume. Sometimes, they get lucky. Mostly not.
PS And, by the way - the same goes for me when I am the reader. I just feel lucky that other writers engender thoughts - talk to me - think. We find out about each other in different ways. Private writing as opposed to public, for example.
• … its grumblings, its great yearning for completion, its incommensurability, its songs, its home-centred ritual, its warmth, its insistence on study, its isolation from and participation in the world, its privacy, its arrogance, its lack of self-righteousness (no attempt to convert others is allowed or desired), its humour, its unprecedented generosity (the largest contributors to charities in the USA), its dissatisfied self-inspection, its intrinsic intellect, its embracing of the stranger, its literature, its law, its curiosity, its drive, its painful love. And too, its Einsteins, its Spielbergs, its Weisels, its Bernsteins. I love the company I metaphorically keep..."
Causes Harrison Solow Supports
Lupus Foundation of America
Museum of Tolerance