It’s January 16th, so I am two-and-a-half months into a daily writing ritual. Knocking on wood as I always do, I am happy with how it has gone. I finished a draft of a novel that I started three years ago, finished three short stories, am working on a fourth, and have done some blogging. I also did one technical article for hire and have a few very short drafts of personal pieces.
The creative writing has been gratifying, calming, and deeply thoughtful. It has also been very private. Exactly one person has read the draft of the novel and gave it a qualified thumbs up, together with some very constructive comments. My wife has read one of the short stories, and gave it a qualified thumbs up, together with some very constructive comments. I’ve also tested some of my thinking with my wife, asking her perspective on characters or situations. This has been helpful several times, but twice I really bristled at what she said and had to stop talking about it.
I reconnected with a graduate school friend who is also starting to write again. On Facebook someone asked if he could read one of her stories. Her response was likely what many creative writers feel. “Sorry–no can do! I can’t show stories to friends, but have no problem submitting them to strangers.”
My friend certainly has a different set of ideas that underlie what she said, but I am in violent agreement, and here’s my take on this. Some people–including some major writers I suspect–feel this way because their writing is indeed very personal. Creative nonfiction writing perhaps is more personal at times than fiction and poetry, but of course some can be very personal.
For me, it isn’t so much that my writing says things about me. Indeed it does, and I believe I am comfortable exposing myself and (some ,not all!) of my many quirks and frailties. It has more to do with the many judgments I’ve made, large and small. If I’ve made a character a drunk, I know why, and I really don’t want to explain why.If I’ve made his favorite drink whiskey, OK, then maybe we can have a discussion, unless I’ve chosen a specific whiskey for a specific reason. Maybe it’s rotgut because he truly doesn’t care anymore and just wants to get drunk or can’t afford something better. Or maybe it’s top shelf, because he still wants to feel good about himself, at least in that small but artificial way.
I feel almost completely the opposite about my professional writing. I like to know what my editor thinks. He or she is responsible for the publication or website, is in charge of the voice, and knows what he or she wants covered. When I get a manuscript back and it is blood red in comments and changes, I am at first a little chagrined, but I get over it quickly. As long as the edits are accurate and the tone is not substantially changed, I just agree to all the edits. I trust the editors, I learn from them, and each story from then on comes closer to the voice and style they want.
I am wondering what will happen if someone actually wants to publish one of my stories (I am not allowing myself to think about my novel in that way yet). What if they suggest edits? What if they ask why my character is a drunk or why he became one? What if they ask why I chose Fleischmann’s whiskey and not something better? It will be a happy problem, of course–someone will have shown genuine interest in my work–but how will I react? Will I be more open, as my friend seems to suggest, simply because the editor is a stranger? I guess I want to find out…