“In order to move others deeply we must deliberately allow ourselves to be carried away beyond the bounds of our normal sensibility.” ~ Joseph Conrad
Considering the highly personal posts on this site, it may seem strange to hear that I have a problem sharing my work. Writers who have been in this position will recognize my anxiety not only in its description but in the work itself. The work tends to be far too tight, wrung clean of many emotional passages as described above. And yet, as Joseph Conrad said above, when I was drafting the work something helped me toss aside the normal sensibility to produce original works that had the potential to move others deeply.
Over the years, I’ve learned to take great comfort in the process of revision. It’s a safe place. A place where no one needs to read what I’m working on, or if I do share it, it’s “just a draft”.
As a draft, the story retains all of it’s potential. However, after each revision, it gets a bit more difficult to carry off the next round. Friends who may be involved in the process lose interest in reading yet another rendering of the same old scene. The author (i.e. Me) begins to whittle away at the real energy behind the characters and the dialogue. Those moments of complete abandon that formed the near magical paragraphs written by someone else end up falling to the wayside in favor of safer alternatives.
For example, below is a paragraph from a book I wrote six years ago. The text comes from the seventh revision:
Thompson sounded like her father. His hand had worked its way down to her hip and it made her cringe. He was old enough to be her father. Trying to let the genie out of the bottle, Thompson rubbed her hip, but Renee was iced up, a ghostly harbor in the arctic. He rubbed harder.
Now, let’s go back to the very first revision:
His hand on her hip made her cringe. He sounded like her father. He was old enough to be her father. He was rubbing her hip, trying to let the genie out of the bottle. She was cold inside, frozen like some ghostly harbor in the arctic. He rubbed harder, trying to loosen her, make her warm.
Of course, dealing with paragraphs in isolation is not very helpful for getting past a fear of sharing the work. I know that you, the reader, have no context here so the paragraphs probably mean next to nothing. Who is Thompson? Who is Renee? What is the relationship between these two? Why on earth do all male writers insist on stereotyping women as frigid and then slap on tired metaphors about the arctic and assume they are creating art?
If we lay aside the bad writing for a moment, the real question is – why am I not sharing the whole page with you?
Frankly, the page in question makes me feel uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. The whole scene is uncomfortable. I use the excuse of poor writing to hide it away, but the subject itself is what I’m really trying to shove into a corner.
If I shared the entire book, you would see the fear reflected throughout the story. There are places where I go way off track, trying to distract myself from the real core of the story. The result is a disjointed hodge-podge.
Get on with it…
The real way to deal with your fear is to stop beating about the bush and put it out there.
It doesn’t matter how it got written. If the story meant enough to you to work on for weeks, months, years (decades?), you ought to share it. So, I’m going to put up the chapter that includes the paragraph above.
Although the book had a few very bad titles (including The Slaves of Burt Thompson), I eventually settled on Revisions. Revisions is the story of Burt Thompson, an award-winning novelist in his later years who feels like his entire life’s work is a failure.
As a cure for the “ills” of storytelling, Thompson takes it upon himself to forget language, to completely divest himself from the ability to understand or use words. He figures that if he doesn’t have the capacity to understand language he can be free from the stories that plague him and insist on being written (does this sound familiar?).
The novel begins with Thompson after he has achieved his dream. However, even though he is completely happy with his new, language-less self, a drama erupts around him as his agent, his ex-wife, and a young writer try to unravel the mess and restore Thompson the Novelist.
Disclaimer: The entire text of Chapter 15 just seven pages) is in the linked PDF file below. I feel like I have to say that this is not sunshine and roses. It contains adult themes, adult language, and some truly awful writing. If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite, let me just say that I’m putting this up because I believe that fear of sharing deeply emotional work is something all writers deal with.