A writer acquaintance of mine approached me today and asked if I would be interested in meeting up with her and another friend to appraise and critique each other’s work. She suggested that writing is such a lonely profession that it helps to get together and share where you are in your writing with others.
This makes sense, and I know a number of people who do similar things to this.
It would be utterly anathema to me.
The thought of showing anyone my work before it’s gone through at least one round of bloody good edits fills me with horror. I can’t even stand sending the ‘finished’ thing off to my agent or editor, and have to force my finger to hit the button that pings the attached file over. And it’s not just the fear that they’ll come back to me and tell me it isn’t any good (not happened to me yet, but I’m still working on it, folks), it’s something deeper than that; it’s something about letting go that I find really hard.
When I came home from meeting this person, I tried to put my finger on what it is that makes this so difficult for me. And I came to the conclusion that I don’t like letting people in to my world very much.
Writing is about exploring self, so this is exactly what happens every time you show somebody your work: you let them in to places only you have been before. I liken finding a story to going back to a house you grew up in and climbing up into the attic to explore. Somewhere up there is an old junk box full of stuff that’s been hidden away for a very long time; stuff that means so much to you, but not necessarily to anyone else. Your job is to find what it is about that thing that’s so meaningful, and express it to others in the same way. Finding an old photograph of you crying on a swing in the park will not necessarily evoke strong memories or emotions in someone, but if you go on to tell them how it was the park where your older brother bumped into you and knocked your ice cream down into the mud and ants, and how he laughed at you when you told him he was rotten and wished he was not in your life. If you tell them how he disappeared a little while later, getting into a van with a strange man, leaving you alone in the park until an old lady came out of her house to find you on that swing, still crying. If you tell them about the bogey man in the yellow transit who leered out of the window at you as he drove away, and how your brother, his terrified face pressed up against the glass, appeared to be calling out your name. If you tell them…
You get the idea.
I haven’t got an older brother. But just writing those few lines made me squirm in my seat, and I could feel my face twisting into the mask of both the kidnapper and the abducted child as I tapped away at the keyboard. You go to those places when you write. You take yourself there and live those moments through the eyes of the people there. You tell their story, and it becomes a part of you.
And then you have to show others. And that is hard.