Monday, November 27, 2006

Writing With the Door Open

Stephen King talks about writing with the door closed – in other words, your first drafts. The pages full of errors and emotion. The messy revisions. Then, after the pain of editing, you’re ready to open the door and ask for comments. That’s where I’m at with my book, and it’s a strange place.

At first I was scared to ask for opinions. I was afraid someone would tell me I’d wasted my time, that my book was manure, and that I was a lousy writer. After two years, I stopped worrying about these things. I realized I had to ask for opinions if I wanted to move forward. I stopped being afraid to hear what other people thought and searched for the Right Reader: someone well-read, knowledgeable, preferably a writer, and more or less a stranger to me. I needed objectivity. I found someone, and when I saw Right Reader’s e-mail on Thanksgiving day, I opened it with one eye closed and my fingers crossed. I braced myself for some version of “You quit your day job way, way too soon.” To my amazed relief, RR’s comments were positive. Our e-mails have made me think about an entirely new aspect to my book, though. A whole lotta people may be unhappy with what I’ve written because my story doesn’t meet their expectations or match their experiences.

This is the point at which many memoir writers start to doubt what they’ve written. I’ve talked to many people who encountered open hostility from family members over memoirs. One lady I worked with changed portions of her self-published book because a friend objected to her brother being described as gay, even though her brother had been dead for years. Two women I know had their daughters chew them out for writing unflattering things about their fathers. I expected I might get some strong reactions, but I always figured it would be an old boss or co-worker. RR’s comments woke me up to the fact that by opening the door, I’m likely to get far more opinions than I bargained for. Now that the door is open, I expect I'll be discovering all kinds of unexpected, interesting things.