Have you ever moved a bale of hay one strand at a time from one pile to another?
Me neither, but that's a bit what moving my blog feels like. Switching blog platforms is a pretty big deal when your blog has been around a while and people are linking to it. I'm having to manually redirect a bunch of stuff (that's the strands of hay moving part), but, ALMOST THERE!
Just one more post on this blog. Though it's seen some different designs, the home base has been the same for a very long time.
Last week I shared a blurb from the writing memoir I've been reading by Dani Shapiro. This week she showed up on Salon with an open letter to a reader who attacked her for being fake after Googling her and finding there were things she "omitted" from her memoir (a different one from "Still Writing").
I'm going to share this one paragraph with you, because it outlines what terrifies me about writing in general:
And what is this sacred pact, you ask, dear disillusioned reader? What, when clearly I have broken my side of what you consider to be yours? Let me begin by sharing with you what this sacred pact is not. When a writer sits down to write memoir, she is not sharing her diary. She is not confessing. She is not doing some sort of public striptease. Her whole entire life is not up for grabs. Can I tell you how many times I have been the recipient of precisely the gotcha! moment you so furiously leveled at me on Facebook? I’ve had readers angry with me for not writing about certain members of my family. Other readers have been angry that I’ve written too much about certain members of my family. I’ve had readers inquire as to why I haven’t written much about my husband. Or my ex-husband. Or my other ex-husband. (What can I say? Memoirists! We have complicated lives!) Then, I’ve had readers approach me with tears in their eyes, telling me that we are soul sisters. Separated at birth. You told my story, they sometimes say.
Apparently this reader called Dani out on Facebook. You can read the whole letter here, but damn. You have to have some thick skin to be a writer these days. I don't have thick skin.
People have the internet and they think they own you. Can say whatever they want. The internet makes people judgy.
Let's not kid ourselves. It takes guts to write - fiction, memoir, non-fiction, a blog. It's easier than ever to publish, and easier still to be attacked by an army of ill-informed critics armed only with wi-fi and a keyboard.
I was happy, then, to stumble across this little bit in my internet travels today:
Don’t be afraid of what people think. For each single person you worry about, deduct 1% in quality from your writing. Everyone has deductions. I have to deduct about 10% right off the top. Maybe there’s 10 people I’m worried about. Some of them are evil people. Some of them are people I just don’t want to offend. So my writing is only about 90% of what it could be. But I think most people write at about 20% of what it could be. Believe it or not, clients, customers, friends, family, will love you more if you are honest with them. So we all have our boundaries. But try this:for the next ten things you write, tell people something that nobody knows about you.
That was written by James Altucher, an entrepreneur and investor type, on his business blog, but wildly appropriate for anyone writing anything. Plus he reads David Foster Wallace. He's got 32 more tips where this one came from if you care to read them. Pretty sure I've never come across his tip #2.
What percentage are you writing at? How many people are you worrying about when you write? Me? Too many.
I often tell myself it's with good reason. Writing, while necessary to a writer (as necessary, it feels, as breathing), is also solitary and selfish, as all art is. Even when we share it in the end. A.S. Byatt spoke some chilling words in an interview in 2009:
I knew a writer's family where the children buried the typewriter in the garden."
She herself, she said, tried "very hard not to 'put people into stories'". "I know at least one suicide and one attempted suicide caused by people having been put into novels. I know writers to whom I don't tell personal things – which is hard, as these writers are always the most interested in what one has to tell," she said. "Now we have the blog and the Facebook everyone is a writer, and everyone's idea of anyone else, kind or cruel, just or unjust, is available on the web, to be believed, or mocked. Blogs and facebooks, too, have caused suicides. Writers often realize the power of writing too late."
The power of writing. Written about by Gloria Anzaldua a year ago, in relation to writing by women of color, but again translatable.
The tiger riding our backs (writing) never lets us alone. Why aren’t you riding, writing, writing? It asks constantly till we begin to feel we’re vampires sucking the blood out of too fresh an experience; that we are sucking life’s blood to feed the pen. Writing is the most daring thing I have ever done and the most dangerous. Nellie Wong calls writing “the three-eyed demon shrieking the truth.”“
Writing is dangerous because we are afraid of what the writing reveals: the fears, the angers, the strengths of a woman under a triple or quadruple oppression. Yet in that very act lies our survival because a woman who writes has power. And a woman with power is feared.
These are the things I think about when I write, and why most of it is never public. Why this space is about you more than me. Probably why my family didn't buy me that memoir how-to book on my wish-list for Christmas. Why it is a precious gift to be mined carefully. Yes, even in fiction.
The last thing I want to share to wrap this all up with a bit of hope is this from Jane Goodall:
There are many windows through which we can look out into the world, searching for meaning …
…Most of us, when we ponder on the meaning of our existence, peer through but one of these windows onto the world. And even that one is often misted over by the breath of our finite humanity.
We clear a tiny peephole and stare through.
No wonder we are confused by the tiny fraction of a whole that we see.
It is, after all, like trying to comprehend the panorama of the desert or the sea through a rolled-up newspaper.”
Your word this week, Velveteers, is:
The tiny peepholes from which we see, observe the world, and write about it. See you next week with bells on, and in the meantime I do hope you're offering each other words of encouragement and constructive criticism on your 100 word submissions.