“If the writing is honest, it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.”
I recently asked a dear friend and mentor, someone whose opinion of the written word I value over most, what he thought about my fledgling blog. Somewhere in my delicate ego I imagined a response along the lines of “you’re becoming the most brilliant writer I’ve ever read!” To my chagrin, however, that is NOT, in fact, what he said. Rather, he quite frankly called me out.
To be fair, I didn’t ask him to be nice. I asked him to be honest. After the initial sting from his less-than-stellar review, I began to process what he said. And while I’m not sure I need or want to canoe through Dante’s 9 Circles of Hell to write something worth reading, I do believe he was right about one thing: I’ve been holding back. Oodles of thoughts in my notebook that have not made it to Rachealizations, due to the potentially off-putting content. It’s not that my writing hasn’t been honest…I’ve just been writing with the parking brake on.
This blog was a long time in the making. And when I finally started, I was excited to be writing with a purpose and for other people to see…to see what I’m capable of expressing when there’s no boss to tell me that I should have said it differently. To let other people in on the joke. To let the thoughts flow in hopes that, just maybe, I’m not the only one who sees the world as I do. Writing is my lover, and I was happy to go public with this torrid affair, as co-dependent and shameless a display as it may sometimes be. Of course, once people did look, my initial elation quickly turned to anxiety.
While my audience is small, my thoughts are still out there in virtual pen. I suddenly had both friends and strangers, alike, peering in on my naked thoughts and feelings. Oddly, I’m not terribly bothered by the thought of strangers reading my thoughts and witnessing my fallibility. There is a strange sort of intimacy between a writer and her shadow readers, in the same way it is sometimes easier to tell your secrets to a stranger than it is to tell them to a friend. Of course, I don’t want to alienate my audience before I’ve even got one. But at some point, I figure people will either enjoy my writing or not, depending on taste, and I may as well write honestly to attract the audience that will allow me to be honest. So, it wasn’t the unknown persons out there that made me anxious.
No, what hobbled my writing hand and caused me to constantly second-guess my subject matter and phrasing (and, coincidentally, gave me the worst case of writer’s block I’ve had in my entire life), was the realization that the people I sort of know might visit my goofy little space on the World Wide Web. I suddenly became cognizant that the people in my 9-5 world–the one that pays the bills—or the people on the fringes of my social circle might not like what I have to say from time to time. The fear that, despite my many successes in keeping my thoughts to myself within these groups in the day-to-day, I may have an online outburst or observation that causes them to give me side-eye.
The people who know me well are fully aware of the crazy shit that might fly out of my mouth from time to time and either look past it or laugh along with me. And I figure strangers will probably have a similar reaction, but I won’t know the difference in that case, so I’ve nothing much to fear. But to think that the person sitting across the conference table is aware of my very bizarre crush on the group Anonymous or has witnessed my tirade on some creative ways to deal with sociopaths, causes me a degree of paranoia and discomfort that’s difficult to ignore. I have friends who tell me that I should just have confidence in myself and not worry about what others think; that I shouldn’t look externally for validation, blah, blah, blah. But I’m fairly certain these friends will not let me live with them when my boss tells me my services are no longer required.
So, while my dear friend’s observation may have been sharper than my fragile psyche would prefer, it is also valuable and prompted me to reflect on why I am writing to begin with. I started this blog because I love to write and I have much to say, regardless of whether every single word that I type will be well-received or will earn me a Pulitzer nomination. If the writing is to be authentic, it must be unfiltered. Otherwise, I’m just a poseur and there doesn’t seem to be much point. And I need to actually enjoy what I’m writing, or my lack of inspiration will be obvious to the reader. And that just wastes both our time. So I can, from here forward, commit myself to writing about the things that are meaningful to me in a way that is honest and hope that I don’t offend the “sort-of knows” in my life too much; or I can go through the motions and improve my skills—maybe even gain a respectable audience—but ultimately come to hate the very activity that could provide me the greatest satisfaction.
I’m not sure there was ever really a choice…. © Racheal Lee Bradford