Chuck Wendig had another great post up on his blog yesterday. Actually it was a series of tweets he wrote about writing. But I’m not going to link to it because I just linked to one of his posts and you really should be reading his blog before mine anyway so I doubt I’d be sharing anything you haven’t seen already.
Part of this post is triggered by that and part of it by a recent thread where writers were mocking other writers (nothing new there) and part is more personal.
See, I gave my grandma a copy of my short story collection. I published the collection in late 2013, but I didn’t bother to create a print version until recently. So I told my grandma I had published some of my stories, but it was this vague concept she never quite nailed down. It never really sunk in for her.
Until the other day when I brought over my proof copy of the collection to show her. And she asked if she could keep it and read it.
I shrugged and said sure.
And then, later, when it was too late to take it back, I realized that my grandma was reading my short story collection. And the essays that accompany it. Some of which are very personal but I think only for those who know me well, if that makes any sense.
So far my grandma’s comment is that the collection is “powerful.”
(I’ve been trying to figure out why she thought that for three days now and it finally occurred to me that the version she has still uses the original order, which means the first essay is about my choice not to pray to save my dad when he was in the hospital that last time. An essay followed by a story about a woman who doesn’t want to let go of her husband after he’s tragically injured. An essay and story that have a whole different level of meaning for someone who was actually there when my father died and knew us both.)
(I changed the order because that particular story, Death Answered My Call, has never actually sold a single copy beyond the one I bought and the one my mom bought even though for me it’s one of the more emotionally powerful stories in the collection.)
Ironically, I’m fine with absolute strangers who don’t know me reading the essays or reading my stories, but the thought of someone who has been a part of my life from the beginning reading them is…unsettling somehow.
I don’t think you can write without putting some of yourself into every story. But I also think most writers who’ve written more than a handful of stories will also say that they write about things that aren’t from them or aren’t representative of who they are and what they believe.
So having people who know you read your stories and try to figure out which parts of the story are you and which parts are not is a bit like cracking open your chest and inviting someone to poke around inside.
(Of course, even those who don’t know you will use your stories to make judgments about who you are and what you believe. But if you let that get to you, you should never share a word of your writing with anyone. Hell, you should never communicate with anyone ever again in any medium.)
It’s scary to open yourself up like that.
But I don’t think you can write good stories without going there. I don’t think you can be a successful writer without making yourself vulnerable to criticism and critique.
(And possibly odd silences at the next family gathering…)