The Risks of Disclosure

(I wrote this way back in 2012. In a way, it’s a promise. A promise that I WILL finish all my stories. In time. I will.)

I usually write early in the morning, from 7:00 to 8:00. Well, ideally. A lot of times, I’m more likely to sleep in until around 10 a.m., and sometimes, when work is especially pressing, I use the time to finish whatever article whose deadline has once again passed. And more often than not, I get so wrapped up in writing the story that my “writing time” spills over that assigned hour and well into my work hours. Gah, yet another guilty secret.

Well, anyway, one day, my daughter, who’s seven years old now, came over and stood over my shoulder, watching me type. (I was working on the most recent installment of “On the Way to Ever After”.) I stopped and looked at her. She just looked back at me. I said to her: “Go away.”

“Why?”

“I can’t write when somebody’s watching over my shoulder.” It’s God’s own truth. Trying to write with someone watching me over my shoulder, reading the words appearing on my computer screen, feels a lot like going to the mall and trying on new clothes, a lot of which turn out to be ill-fitting and unflattering, all while leaving the dressing room door wide open. It makes me uncomfortable, to say the least.

“But I want to read,” she said.

“Well, you can’t,” I told her, having already minimized the Word window. “It’s not a children’s story.”

“Well, has Daddy read your story?”

“No. I don’t let him read it either. It’s not his kind of story. He wouldn’t like it.”

“But want to read it!”

“You can’t read it. Not yet anyway. Maybe when you’re older.”

“But you post your story on the Internet, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So that means everyone in the world can read it, right?”

“Well, theoretically, yeah, given the nature of the Internet, but I wouldn’t say–”

“So strangers read it, right?”

“W-well, yeah, you could say that.”

“Then why won’t you let your own family read it?”

I opened my mouth to answer her, then realized I had no idea what to say. To her, at least.

But I do know why it’s so difficult for me to share my work with my loved ones–my parents, my husband, my best friends, even my not-quite-as-close friends. The stuff I write for work, I have no problem sharing with them. It’s work. Something I wrote specifically to be read by someone. I wrote it to earn money, and as difficult as writing for work is, the fact remains that I’m not as emotionally invested in the articles I write than in my fictional work.

But my stories–ah, that’s a different matter altogether. My stories come from some other place inside me, and if that place had been a specific part of my physical body, you can bet it’s a place that would need to be covered up by protective clothing you’d probably have to classify as underwear. They come from a vulnerable place, where my daydreams, fantasies, secret wishes and secret aches all live side by side. My stories are all intensely personal to me, not in the sense that they’re autobiographical, but because I tell stories with an inner voice that comes from an inner me.

Aaaaand, that still doesn’t answer my daughter’s question. So given all that, why am I okay with sharing my stories online, and even feeling discouraged and bitter when nobody appears to be reading my stories online, when it takes a crowbar to make me share my stories with those close to me? Maybe it all boils down to how easy it is sometimes to confide to a stranger rather than to a close friend or loved one.

People have wondered about this before. People have explained it way better than I ever could. When I was still working on my MA in Creative Writing–now aborted and decaying in a corner–I found it extremely nerve-wracking to share my story with my teacher and classmates during fiction-writing workshops, and yet I had to. My grade was at stake. So I did. Criticisms would come flying high and low during those workshops, and they hurt. But somehow, I weathered the critical comments of my classmates and teachers well enough; in fact, some of my teachers openly told my that I had talent, and that my stories, while in need of improvement, were promising enough.

Once I asked two of my best friends to read a love story I wrote. This was years ago, long before my daughter was born. They disliked it, that much was clear. Maybe it wasn’t an active dislike. At best they were all, “meh” about it. Or maybe they were just being polite. But for close to a year following that, I couldn’t write a word. Nothing. I just felt too bruised. Their vague dislike and cautious criticisms, delivered less harshly than my classmates’ and teachers’ in those writing workshops, wounded me so much I began questioning if I wasn’t being completely delusional about this writing thing.

A slightly different thing happened with my husband. I let him read a fantasy novel I was working on before, and yes, he was all praises. He even said the first draft read like a finished novel already. But I was watching him so intently, waiting to catch the slightest frown, the slightest sign that he didn’t like it and was just saying that to make me feel better, that the praise just didn’t make a dent. I’d already set up my defenses even before he started to speak. I couldn’t accept his praise. I couldn’t believe him when he said I was good, and I couldn’t feel good about his compliment the way I felt good about the comments from my teachers and the positive reviews on my fic. I just thought he was saying all that because he loves me and wants to encourage me, not because he actually thought I had talent.

I’m an insecure basketcase, that’s what I am.

The opposite happens with my parents, who throughout my life have tended toward being hypercritical of me rather than supportive. The best I would get would be grudging compliments, to the tune of “It wasn’t bad.” The critical comments would be more eloquent and detailed. Well, at least I knew where they were coming from, and I knew that when they did praise something I wrote, I knew it HAD to be damn excellent.

So there it is in a nutshell. I find it hard to let people close to me, people who know me and care about me, read my work thanks to this catch-22. If they say positive things about my work, it’s because they’re trying to make me feel good and avoiding having to hurt me, or are just being polite. If they utter one word of criticism, the hurt would go way out of proportion because my self-esteem depends on their having good opinions of me. A basketcase, like I said.

At least, that’s how I’ll explain it to my daughter one day, when she gets older. Of course I’ll let her read this fic one day, just not now, owing to the many naughty words and mature topics being dealt with in this story. But since that day I was reading a short story she wrote and she cringed and writhed and begged me to please not read her work out loud, I have a feeling she’ll be able to understand where I’m coming from one day.

It’s a sad thought, really.

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