Thursday, June 4, 2009

The First Readers

The word "manuscript" makes me feel like a jackass. I feel pompous when I say "my book." I know people are rolling their eyes at me if ever I use the words "my collection of short stories."

This is problematic.

We all know I have issues with control, that I wake up every morning thinking, How can I make people love me today? At all times, I am in some small corner of my brain considering how each of my actions will appear to the outside world. Therefore, I really do worry about how I sound when someone at school says to me, "What did you do last night?" and I reply, "I worked on my book."

Sometimes I shrug it off, play it real cool, pretend like it's no big deal. Why? Because I assume that person is already thinking, "Oh, please. She's writing a book. Yeah. Me too. Everyone's writing a book."

And I don't want to seem like one of those people I hated in grad school. In my experience, the really awful writers were the ones wandering the halls discussing their novels, their manuscripts, their collections without even having been prompted to do so. When they spoke, my brain conjured up an alternate picture of them: There they were in Armstrong Hall, wearing ascots and smoking pipes and looking so pensive their eyebrows fused into one straight line across their head. "My collection," they began, "is a set of interconnected stories that walks the fine line between desire and despair. Each section examines the terrible burden of humanity and what we can do to escape our chains."

By the time they reached the end of their sentence, everyone around them was fantasizing about putting a gun to their heads.

So I worry. I worry incessantly. I do not want to be one of those people, the ones we gave mean nicknames to. I don't want to be the False Writer, the girl who thinks she's good, who thinks she's got something real special when everyone knows she's a big fakey fake.

That's why sometimes I'm reluctant or even embarrassed to talk about my writing projects. I'm constantly wondering, Does he think I'm for real? Does he think I'm a writer like Kanye West is a writer?

Sometimes it's very tiring listening to everything that clacks through my head. And I need to learn how to get over those idiot thoughts that pop in there. Elizabeth Gilbert would tell me I need to acknowledge them, tell myself it's okay, that I love myself despite these silly thoughts, and there's no need for me to hang on to them any more. I'm supposed to say, Self, I love you, and I will always take care of you.

And that sounds nice. So nice. And I tried it last week. When I started fussing around about the book and how it was coming together and what I thought about it, when I started worrying that I'll never find a home for it, that no one will like it, that everything I write is dumb and ugly, I thought of E.G. in Eat, Pray, Love, and I gave it a whirl. I told myself it was okay, that I acknowledged those thoughts but I loved myself despite them. I told myself to let those thoughts go because they did me no service. I thought, Be gone, thoughts! And then I thought, I love you, self, even if you're a crazy obsessing freak. I will always take care of you.

And then my brain said, "How? Your book is never going to be taken."

Clearly I have a ways to go before I become enlightened.

But despite my weird hang-ups about writing--and those listed above are far from the only ones--I still managed to get everything done and arranged, and, early this week, I sent the whole thing--the whole manuscript--off to a select few readers, people I love pretty much more than anything, people who are tough and sweet, people who love me. This will be the easier round of feedback, I'm guessing, even though I know they're going to let me have it whenever I need it.

One of those people asked if I wanted him to send it off to some of his friends. "They're literary-types," he said. "Should I send it to them, too? Should we see what they think?"

And my first reaction, which was automatic, was this: Yes! That's great! A wider audience for feedback!

And then my second reaction, which was more authentic, was: Holy fuck! People I don't really know reading my work! Jesus!

Setting a whole manuscript in front of someone is different than getting a story published in a magazine. One story is one story. If someone doesn't like one story, well, okay. But what if he hates everything you've written, everything you love? Those kind of what ifs are deadly.

In the end, I told my friend sure, it'd be great if he sent the collection along to his friends, and I wanted him to know that I would suffer a few mini panic attacks just thinking about it, but I appreciated it anyway. I really, really did.

1 comment:

Joshua said...

i love you every single day :)