Writing is hard. Sharing is worse.
I’ve been a storyteller since I was little, scripting plays with my teddy bears and reenacting Robin Hood between the swing sets. The packed dirt was the brook, a railroad tie was the bridge, and in my version, Robin Hood never lost to Little John. They ended the fight as friends and equals, since that was what my sister and I were and would always be. Also, she was two years younger, and it was too much for my ego to fall into the brook.
I enjoyed drawing, but I discovered that I was invariably pulled to write and that my sketchpad was a messy writing surface for an eight-year-old hand. Thus began the first in a series of red notebooks–my favorite color–as I wrote and plotted and realized that I could be an author.
My sister read my stories. She and I were two halves of each other, and I needed the ego boost that her unbounded enthusiasm brought. She and I entered into something of a writing circle with three of our friends, and I was jealous to learn that they’d been doing this for years. They had interesting characters and completed stories and I was behind on the times. I wasn’t used to no longer being the oldest and most experienced of our group. So I wrote, desperately, needing to pull out every shred of story that I had imagined. I wanted to impress, to create, and the writing felt disconnected from me. My characters were strange people to me, and it felt like our collective group was getting to know them together; like strange pen pals, only I wielded both pens.
Then we entered high school, and our little circle dissolved. One girl moved away. Another started public school. The last held on, and we emailed our chapters and scraps to each other. I gushed with pride when my hero died and it made her cry. I used copious punctuation and a multitude of emoticons to encourage her to continue her writing. She didn’t.
Then it was just my sister and I again, and I missed our community. I was writing more than ever, now, but it didn’t feel official. I didn’t feel like an author. The writing was too hard, too painful, too personal. Stress in my real life was encroaching on my writing. It became journal entries on the page, and it was entirely inadequate. No one else was reading it except my sister, and I loathed it and wanted it that way.
The therapy that writing gave me lasted through three hundred and fifty typed, single-spaced pages. My sister read it, but said little. It was enough for me to have written it, to have released it. My own emotional turmoil was over, enough for me to write “real author things” now, as if that was some safe category that I could arrive at and be satisfied with.
I’ve been writing “real author things” for some time now. They’ve been unfinished NaNoWriMos and second-drafter short stories. But there is still something terrifying about sharing it with others. I’ve never regained that disconnectedness I had when I first started writing, and I know that is a good thing for my craft, but not for my person.
My parents and other siblings never–still have not–read my writing. I hated the idea that they would read them and look at me differently. Just because I wrote about a girl looking for her father didn’t mean that I was equally lost. I wrote about trophy wives, but my mother was never one. My characters had half siblings and abusive bruises and loneliness. I grew up in the middle of six best friends; we played Dutch Blitz together and made pizza on Saturday nights.
But there were little pieces of me, scattered among the imaginary. I remembered the first time I held my littlest sister, and the wonder at the tiny hands and perfect toes. I remembered the confused bitterness of an older sister who loved and hated with equal passion. I knew about false promises and empty apologies and what it was like to miss someone until your heart ached.
But to give that to someone else? I’m not sure if I’m more afraid that they will attribute false emotions to me … or that they will recognize those parts that are mine.
I tell myself that I’ll let others read it when I’m satisfied. When I’ve parked my trailer and hung my curtains on that plateau of “real author things”. Yes, there is a perfectionist in me, and she can be quite persuasive. I listen to her when I’d rather not hear from the part of me that knows I’m simply too insecure to share it.
I think my perspective is all backwards. In handing over a manuscript, it feels like my story. Like this will be analyzed for posterity as a reflection of my current mental state. But maybe it’s not. Sometimes I forget that I’m writing fiction, that I’m telling someone else’s story. Someone else who is broken and challenged in different ways than I ever was. Yes, I recognize those little pieces in her that remind me of myself. But there’s far more to her than just me. I have to ask myself if her story is worth telling. And if it is … then why am I not?