They are not your people

The words I read came from the heart.  Admittedly, they were written a long while ago and never fully polished.  Perhaps they weren’t quite ready for a public airing.  Plus, they were a part of something longer which hadn’t yet been completed either.  And the audience was expecting a fictional story, not a personal essay.

Is that why the words were misunderstood when they were read to an audience?  Is that why the listeners took issue with the philosophy when all they’d been asked for was a view on the writing itself?  Is that why the whole thing was so painful and annoying?

I learned three things that evening:

  • Make sure the work that you share with others is work that you are truly happy with.  If you have none ready, share nothing and keep writing.
  • If they don’t understand what you’re saying, check whether you’ve written what you thought you had.  What’s clear in your heart and head may not be clear on paper.  It doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
  • If you stand by your writing and your words, then those who didn’t understand are not your people.  They can be your friends, but they are not your audience.
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Sharing our work

Sharing our work can be terrifying but which is worse: sharing it with your nearest and dearest, or with the world?  And whose feedback means most – a loved one’s, or kind words from someone you’ve never met?

I was nervous before sending off my first magazine submission, and ecstatic when I received the positive and complimentary email response.  I hesitated the first time my cursor was poised over the ‘publish’ button on a blog post, but loved seeing the numbers of readers slowly increase, especially when they were accompanied by encouraging comments.  In the days when I dabbled in acting (strictly amateur, but great fun), I’d get tummy snakes – much more wriggly and unpleasant than butterflies – before a performance.  But nothing compares to the terror I felt the first time I gave a piece of writing to the husband to read.

He knows me like nobody else.  I like to think he understands and appreciates me for who I am – he’s stuck around an awfully long time if he doesn’t!  So why the nerves?  Surely a supportive person who cares (and in this I’m including friends, real and virtual) is a much better first reader than a faceless, nameless person who has nothing personally invested in your happiness and wellbeing?

I’m not so sure.  It’s the investment, you see, on both your side and theirs.  You truly care what each other thinks.  There is potential for misunderstandings, hurt and disagreements which aren’t going to be purely professional.  It’s one thing to disagree with a far-away writer, dislike what she’s written or how she’s expressed herself, but it’s a fortunate husband who can criticise his wife (or vice versa) and get away without a frosty nip or two!

A loved one comes to the page with preconceived ideas too, because he knows you so well.  Will he be shocked by the subject matter you choose, discover hidden depths he never suspected in you, or even take literally (or personally) something you meant metaphorically?  Maybe, maybe not, but no wonder you feel nervous as you hand over your work.  A more public audience, at least before you’re known in your field, has none of those preconceptions or expectations and you can hope for some kind of unbiased opinion.  (Except, of course, none of us is unbiased and we all have preconceptions; it’s just that in this case they’re not personal to you.)

Of course, if you take your work seriously – and you do, don’t you? –  I don’t think it’s an either/or question.  At some point you will want to, need to, take your work out of that metaphorical or literal bottom drawer and hand it over to the world at large.  And if the world at large is reading your work (or admiring your art, or wearing your knitting), you can’t really keep it from your nearest and dearest.  When you’re a world famous author, it will be difficult to say to your spouse, “don’t read my book”.  He really will think you’re hiding a dark secret then!

I chose to take my words to the anonymous world first, just to dabble, but soon let the husband in on the act, and he walks the tightrope of supportiveness very well.  But I’m pretty sure others begin testing the waters by sharing work with friends and family, and slowly edge further outwards.  It seems more logical that way, I suppose.

Have you taken the plunge yet?  Did you – or will you – choose the anonymous face, or the one you wake up next to every morning?