I haven’t done much writing of my own for a long time (blog posts and e-mails excluded). There’s always something getting in the way – a job, dirty dishes, children requiring attention…
But over the last few years, I’ve slowly and tortuously managed to write a novel-length piece of fiction. This is a pretty Big Deal for me. Growing up, I always had my verbal/writing skills praised, and this was couched in terms of intelligence. Even as an 11 or 12 year old, I can remember a specific incident of putting a writing project away and deciding not to continue because I feared that it wasn’t perfect enough, that anyone who read it would decide that everyone had been wrong all along and I would be exposed as the unintelligent fraud I had always been. Since then, I’ve found writing extremely difficult. I would start a project, get midway through my first draft (which is about where the initial euphoria of inspiration starts to wear out), realize that what I was writing was the kind of thing only an unintelligent person would write, and give up.
So being able to stick with a project for so long (and to actually reach an end, no less!) is a very big step for me.
Even bigger was letting anyone see it.
In addition to my concerns about appearing unintelligent, I also worried about what I might accidentally reveal about my private psyche. My main character is a lot like me, in both personality and formative experiences. Even though the situation she’s placed in is entirely fictional (there’s magic and vampires, so rather out of my realm of experience), her perceptions of those events are very much mine. And very much private. They are the things I would perhaps rather no one know that I secretly think about them.
I had to close my eyes when I hit “send,” but I did it. And it took me a week after getting the first review back before I was finally able to open it and look.
As worked up as I had made myself, the comments my reviewer left really weren’t that bad! Still, it’s quite a process to dissociate myself as I read. There are times when I play around with words or grammar, when I invent words that have the right feel for what I need, when I omit punctuation to convey a particular messiness of thought, that my reviewer didn’t grok at all. Worse, she thought them errors, and so I appear unintelligent.
But I expected those feelings, and the week I took before opening her comments document was precisely intended to prepare myself, to get into the right frame of mind to read her comments impersonally.
What I didn’t expect was her disbelief at several details of my main character’s past. These events, she writes (I paraphrase), wouldn’t happen like that. Couldn’t happen like that. Yet they would and could, and I know that because they did. The parts she found most unbelievable were the parts I had borrowed from my own experiences.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I found it upsetting, so much as unsettling.
In any case, I’m glad that I went through the exercise, as painful as it was. I feel looser now, somehow, like I’ve already been for a swim in the deep end so there’s nothing to fear from the kiddy pool. I’m already excited to work on a final draft, incorporating the comments I’ve received (and I need to re-write the denouement, which is bloody awful right now), and then to move on to something new.
I’m also incredibly proud of myself just for finishing. Good or not, I did it, I wrote a novel. If I die tomorrow, my eulogy could honestly call me a novelist. I am brimming.