When I was in my MFA program at Iowa way back when, a friend said to me, “One of the things I like about you is that you’re so willing to make yourself vulnerable.”
Because my self-esteem as a writer was at its lowest ebb while I was at Iowa, part of me thought, Do you mean because I’m willing to submit stories for workshop that are so trite, predictable, and badly written it’s amazing I can even bring myself to even print them out?
The rest of me thought it probably had more to do with my general openness with people. Maybe I pressed for details; I don’t remember. I just remember the compliment itself.
And I do think it was a compliment. Unless we’re talking about not wearing a winter coat on a 9-degree day (which we had a few of this month here in Boston), or, say, strolling through the Serengeti naked, draped with raw meat, I think vulnerability is generally a good thing. When you’re willing to share your sad stories and failings, your crazy ideas, your feelings and ideas — you open yourself up to new discoveries and experiences, and more meaningful connection with other people. You also, of course, open yourself up to failure, rejection, and pain. (Or becoming lion poop.)
If you plan to be a writer — one who actually wants to share their writing with other people — a willingness to make yourself vulnerable is the price of entry. You need to be willing to risk rejection, failure, scathing criticism or complete indifference.
And then there are weirdo writers who go out of their way to make themselves extra vulnerable. Like me.
Back in December, I shared the news on Facebook that I’d sent my novel off to my agent at long last, four years after I began it. As someone who has written two books before this one (three, actually, if you count the novel in the drawer) I know that this part of the process — when you’ve completed something you feel good about after months or years of work — is a milestone worth celebrating. It may even be the best milestone, period. Sure, publication day is nice, too, but it’s less tied to the creative accomplishment itself.
So I wanted to share that milestone with friends and readers. Not only to share the joy and crow a little, but also because there’s always the chance that there won’t be another big milestone for this book. I mean, I think there will, but who knows? It’s beyond my control.
It’s the sort of post that gets a gazillion “likes” and comments, and then the more people like it, the more people see it, and before you know it, everyone you’ve ever known — the badminton partner from high school gym class you haven’t seen in twenty years, the distant cousin you’ve never met, the co-worker you vaguely remember from a job in your twenties — knows that you’ve written a novel which MAY NEVER GET PUBLISHED.
And because I put it on Facebook, I’ve started getting comments from people in real life, too: Acquaintances I run into around town. Church ladies. Neighbors. “Congrats on finishing your novel! What’s it about??” (A question I’m terrible at answering.) And I want to crawl under a rotting log. Jesus, Jane, what were you thinking — telling the entire universe about your book, like a kindergartener holding up a fingerpainting: “Look what I did!!” Pretty soon they’ll start asking: What’s going on with your novel? Is it published yet?
After Eden Lake didn’t get picked up by a major press, I swore I would never again tell anybody anything about what I was working on, or where I was in the process. I kept Double Time pretty hush-hush while I was writing it. But for some reason, I decided to be Blabby McBlabbermouth about this book. AND YES, by writing this post I’m furthering that, but whatever. The horse has left the barn.
So, why did I do it? Maybe because I’ve worked on it for so long, and was just so relieved to get it done. Or maybe because I’m 43 and accustomed to failure and heartbreak and oversharing in general — infertility, depression, a kid with cancer — so, fuck it, who cares.
I like how you’re willing to make yourself vulnerable.
Of course, I’m not the only fool writer who does this sort of thing. I love that Jac Jemc, a fab writer I met at VCCA a ways back, has a blog where she regularly shares her rejections. (As well as her acceptances and triumphs – of which she’s had many.) I love this, and how it illuminates the fact that rejection is normal and common, even for extremely talented writers who *also* receive acceptances and accolades. Just because someone’s got published books and stories (or for that matter any kind of career success), it doesn’t mean that everything they do is embraced by gatekeepers or critics or audiences.
And that’s OK.
Rejection and failure and criticism sting — and sometimes hurt like a mofo. But maybe we’d all be better off if we shared them with each other without shame. Maybe we’d all feel more connected and supported. Less envious and bitter. (OK, maybe we don’t have to do it with EVERYONE WE KNOW, though. Sigh.)
Anyway, it’s what I’ve set myself up to have to do if things don’t go the way I hope they will with this book. So there you go.
Hi, my name is Jane and I’m a masochist in a meat suit, strolling through the Serengeti. Pleasure to meet you.
PS — No, no news on the book yet. It’s still being perused by my agent, who’s a busy, busy man.