When I was in public school–and actually, for many years afterwards–I had a recurring dream of finding myself on the big yellow schoolbus, in varying states of undress. Sometimes I was in the shower, which had been magically transported into the aisle. Sometimes I was in my skivvies. Sometimes, I’d neglected to wear pants. But always, always, it was The Worst Thing EVER.
I still remember that feeling–of insecurity, anxiety, complete and utter exposure. It was horrible.
Of course, this is one of those archetypal dreams that represent my own insecurities, blah-blah-blah-Freud-blah. Really, it’s one of those dreams whose symbolism is so flippin’ obvious that it really doesn’t need interpretation.
Putting my writing out in the world feels exactly the same way. For years, I wrote in relative secrecy–friends and family knew I wrote stories, but I didn’t claim to be A Writer. It was too immense a thing to own, too far beyond the scope of my own abilities. It took years and years for me to be ready to share my work with a critique group, to try submitting to publishers and agents. Each new step was a horrifyingly naked-on-the-schoolbus moment. I was afraid that all the worst, ugliest, weakest parts of myself were hanging out, on lurid display.
But the thing I’ve resisted longest is putting my fiction out there for actual readers. Not people who will edit it or evaluate it for publication, but people who will read it, for the sake of reading something. And somehow, this is the most terrifying thing of all. As I think about it, it seems at first that it should be more terrifying to submit for publication, or to hand my word-babies to critique partners to be torn asunder, to sink or swim, but it’s actually much scarier to offer it up to readers. Because our time is so limited, so precious. Because I am asking people to spend minutes of their lives with me, and I’m worried they won’t find it worthwhile, that I’ll have taken something from them that they can’t get back. Like all those movies I’ve watched with my husband, when afterwards we look at each other and say, “Wow. That’s two hours of our lives we’ll never get back.”
Ultimately, it’s the readers who are most important–not the publishers, the agents, the critique groups. We write to communicate, to make a bridge between minds, experiences, worlds. The thought of that bridge collapsing is terrifying because, to a writer, the connection is everything.
This week, I made the leap. Lovely Nicky at Artipeeps invited me to offer up a piece of short fiction representative of my work. I bit the bullet. I climbed the schoolbus steps with all my junk hanging out. You can see the results [she said, with much trepidation] here.
I agonized over the piece. I don’t have any recent short fiction, so I ended up sending the prologue to a story I’m trying out. It’s very incomplete, obviously, but I hope it conveys a sense of what I write, what speaks to and intrigues me.
Thank you so much for reading. Thank you for the gift of your time.
And if you want to laugh at the naked kid on the schoolbus, that’s okay, too. She’s kind of a mess. But she’s learning to laugh at herself, and to be brave, and slowly, slowly, to shake what her mama gave her.
It’s still scary. But it’s also kind of magical.