One of the people I follow on Twitter tweeted this quote the other day. I happened to see it and then, as also quite often occurs, I spontaneously replied: And yet, the irony is, when we publish it, we give it away. Hmm, I thought, one of the many paradoxes writers face. Which got me to thinking...
Words. Phrases. Sentences. In the stillness of our writing spaces (or for some of you, the babel --- see here for my thoughts on that) we craft our words --- frequently in the lateness of nightness, as Miriam Waddington said. (Night time was made for writers... well, this writer, anyway.) Sometimes our words sing. Sometimes they fall like stones into still water, managing the seemingly impossible feat of leaving not a single ripple. But we continue. We create a compilation of our hopes and fears and likes and dislikes, and it becomes a story. It morphs and hopefully, takes on a life of its own. We project all kinds of emotions into that writing, so it is frequently a barometer of where we are in our life journeys. Ultimately, we create something intensely personal, far more so than even clothing or hair styles. Because our writing is a mirror of our innermost thoughts. It’s like Lebowitz says: nothing is more ours than our writing. Our words are intensely personal.
And then we take these creations and we present them to the world. Which has to be an act either of supreme courage, dauntless confidence... or stupefying lunacy.
By and large, I’m going with a mixture of the first two, although sometimes, there’s definitely a certain amount of trepidation mixed in. We want our work to meet with approval. Hell, we want a great deal more than that. Most of us want enthusiasm bordering on hysteria... because that’s validation, and most writers are just as hungry for validation as the next person. If you like my work, it means you like me; if you dislike my work, well then... And, silence is generally regarded as negative.
It’s much the same for painters, sculptors, musicians, and actors, too. They put themselves into their creations, and then put those creations out on public view. As much as artists seek to put their creations out there, the public hungers to experience those creations. They want to be moved, made to experience thoughts, feelings, emotions that are beyond their own imaginations. There’s a massive demand for it.
And words are also powerful. Writers’ words. Readers’ words. Never doubt that. I don’t know who the moron was who coined the by-now tired old phrase about sticks and stones breaking bones, but words never being able to hurt people... but they couldn’t have been more wrong. Perhaps that’s something we could all --- writers and readers alike --- stand to be a little more conscious of. As an educator, I’m acutely aware of the impact my spoken words can have in the classroom: the ability to encourage or discourage, to motivate or crush. My written words can possess the same impact, especially with my students, bless their angst-laden little adolescent hearts.
Stephen King has said that, as a writer, you write the first draft with the door closed, the second with the door open. So your first draft is really the only time your words are truly yours. Once you involve someone else --- Ideal Reader (Mr. K’s term), editor, whomever --- you inevitably lose sole ownership of your words. And then once those words are actually published... well, in some strange, indefinable way, people will adopt them as their own. The characters, the plots, the dialogue. For example, Frodo and Sam, while still Tolkien’s characters, kind of belong to the world now.
But then... to be adopted and taken to heart by many, many people around the world... not such a bad fate for a writer’s words, is it?