What happens when someone spots something in your writing that you didn’t notice yourself?

The mostly-benevolent AI that runs YouTube these days recently suggested this video to me.

It requires a little context. The interviewer is asking Spielberg about the climax of his movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (an absolutely wonderful film, by the way). If you’ve not seen it, the aliens who’ve been interacting with humanity for decades finally show themselves, the mothership landing at Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.

They’ve been communicating up until this point with an iconic series of musical notes, and the humans are now able to interpret the tones as a form of language, and eventually allow their computers to take over the conversation.

So when the interviewer points out that Spielberg’s mother was a musician, and his father a computer scientist, you might think the director would reply ‘yes, of course, I wrote that scene in deliberately."

Instead he is surprised: it had literally never occurred to him that he had echoed his own upbringing in his work. The interviewer had spotted something, a deeper meaning in the movie, that had never occurred to the director.

As writers, we all strive to get our meaning across. If we have a message we want to impart, we work hard to weave it into our narrative so that we’re not beating the reader over the head with it. That means we always wonder if we’re being too subtle, and that the entire point is going directly over their heads instead.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that sometimes readers discover things in our writing that we didn’t mean to include, at least not consciously. Sometimes, of course, they’re things that aren’t there at all, or momnents that speak to that reader alone. Connecting with someone so personally is wonderful, but it’s not something you can plan for.

When someone spots something in your work that is news to you as the writer, it’s a very humbling experience. I think it happens when you write from the heart (such a clich√©, but it’s true), dig deep into your own feelings and put part of yourself on the page.

We have to accept that some of how our work is encountered and experienced will always be outside our control. I will strive to be like Spielberg, however, and put as much of myself into my work that it connects with people on a deeper level than I can ever plan for.

Has something ever resonated with you, in a way you suspect the author didn’t intend? Have you read something and thought ‘that same thing happened to me’? Let me know!