Writing is something mostly done in solitude, but is at its best when shared.
The writing part is done alone.
The writer has to turn up, take a seat, face the blank page, silence the inner critic and start putting words down. The writer must overcome their fears by fighting, tricking or ignoring them. If the writer doesn’t give up, they can rewrite, edit, and polish until the prose runs as smooth as their skill and experience and expertise can make it. Only then will they have a finished piece of writing.
And all this effort is, at most, only half the story. Writing is sometimes the easy part, sometimes sharing is harder.
I’ve been writing stories since I was a boy. I write for me. I’ve rarely shown my writing to anyone. I write fast, and have no shortage of ideas or stories to tell. For example, I’ve written over a million words in fifteen unseen novels. I enjoy telling myself the story over a raw first draft. Going back and fixing it up, rewriting and polishing, well, that takes a lot longer. The closer I get to finishing the longer it takes. I remind myself of the 80/20 rule: that the last twenty percent takes eighty percent of the time.
But is that the only reason I find it hard to finish the stories? Or let anyone see those million words?
Stephen King’s On Writing begins as a kind of memoir and explanation as to why he became a writer and how the trauma he faced as a boy influenced why he writes about the things that he does.
It rang true to me.
I’ve had my fair share of knocks as a child: I’ve seen my own flesh cut to the bone, my own blood stream from my face, my own finger broken to the side. These incidents, primarily physical, were indelible. I became fascinated by darker themes. But they did not fill me with fear.
When I was a young teen, the casual joking cruelty of those that should have known better would affect me to a much more debilitating degree than the physical injuries I’d had growing up.
Even at that young age, I knew it was wrong what they said to me. Those words and phrases left me feeling devastated every time. If their raucous laughter was anything to go by, they got a huge amount of joy out of their verbal attacks. I cultivated a happy-go-lucky “I don’t care” attitude, where I’d laugh it off. It was all in good fun, they’d say. He’s fine with it, they’d say. He’s okay, they’d say.
No. It wasn’t fun. I wasn’t fine with it. I wasn’t okay.
I fled into my head and lost myself in stories: books and comics and computer games and films and television. Characters from these stories became my role-models. From them, I learned right from wrong and good from bad in clear and focused ways. Any lingering confusion I might have had was gone. I knew that their behaviour was categorically wrong. There was no compassion in their words. No healing, only hurt. Told enough times, you start to believe it.
I kept myself together and aloof because anything else would be picked on and called out and slagged off. Sometimes, even when I had brought no attention to myself, I could still be victimised, out of nowhere, and told I was too fat, or too stupid or too ugly. All couched as jokes, all just for a bit of a laugh.
It wore me down.
I began to eat more as a way to cope. My eating became part self-fulfilling prophesy, part self-harm and part rebellion. I did the thing that made me more of a target, but did it on purpose. It was something I could control.
Then in the midst of it all I began to write. I took all that dark, exciting, painful, beautiful stuff in my head and I made things with it. I lost myself again, but this time by telling stories. Creating something of my own was miles better than consuming anything else. It didn’t matter if what I wrote was awful, or that my inspirations showed through the cracks, all that mattered was that I made it mine through the lens of my experience. Yes, I wrote the graphic scenes of horror but I also began to explore my feelings.
Writing stories didn’t heal me, not yet, but it helped. It helped a lot.
The fear of unsolicted ridicule is why I find it so hard to finish pieces and show them to people. I fear being made to feel the way I did as a kid. I fear being taunted and laughed at for just being me.
Well, here I am, just me, being me. Writing it down.
But that’s only half the story. The rest is trying to find the courage to share.