In the past months I have discovered the importance and joy of sharing my writing with others, and of hearing their writing shared. To be involved in the creative process, with others, is a wonderful thing. I am motivated, inspired, emboldened to try new forms and I am learning a lot.
Sharing is baring.
But sharing is not easy. Sharing something that is still in drafting stage – perhaps not a first draft but far from ready to publish – is to expose one’s flaws. The writer knows that their work is incomplete, unfinished, imperfect, and they are asking for feedback on those very imperfections, as well as for an objective eye to point out the good stuff (too easy for the writer to miss).
Sharing is vulnerable, but it is also empowering. A writer’s goal is to have some kind of effect – to entertain, to teach, to interest, to move the audience, to make them think or feel something they did not previously, to make them remember something, or hope for something…
Sharing is bearing (1)
So not only do I reveal myself, through my work, in all its in-progress-ness, but I also bear a responsibility – the responsibility of affecting readers/listeners. The worst response a writer can get is apathy. If the piece is forgettable and doesn’t engender a response, even a brief change in thought or feeling, then I have failed. And so, when I write a story or a poem I am hoping it will have certain effects.
My university professors hammered in a phrase: “readers make meaning“, ie. a piece of writing is open to interpretation. What the author intended is rarely explicit. Once something is published, it is open to misconstruction, not that this is always a bad thing. The reader, in other words, is entitled to making what he likes of the story or poem or essay. But the writer is responsible for guiding, for opening up the possible meanings, for limiting others.
That said, I shared a poem at writers’ group last night. I got great feedback and have since edited a little… and here it is:
hot water comes slowly
jerks and shivers
steam thick with promises, clouding reflections in soft focus
I take my place, tingling
feet afire, thighs warming wax
cold tendrils on my neck, invited,
embraced. Weighed down by pleasant ache,
by heavy heat, holding me,
moulding and melding. Never cool,
I will. Never chill, I pretend, forgetting what’s been
what will be, as if languor will not turn,
itch and irritate, should heat last.
Or relish tepid, dry distance, fresh clothes,
a cool glass of water.
Another day, with soggy socks, craving warmth
I will come again.
Sharing is bearing (2)
There is one other kind of ‘bearing’ that follows sharing a piece of writing, or any art really, and that is to bear the burden of others’ responses. Last night was a rush – I got overwhelmingly positive feedback, and perhaps it was because I went first and was not harmed by comparison to some more talented poet, or perhaps the readers/listeners were just overly kind, or perhaps they’d heard some awful description of what to expect at The Other Writers Group and were just glad that this first poem wasn’t explicit, violent, absurd or aimed at shocking them. There were lots of new faces, but nonetheless, very positive feedback.
Other times I’ve shared there has been a lot more critique, suggestions, questions, confusion… Here’s hoping this progression means I’m becoming a better writer!
The thing is, it’s hard to forget harsh criticism, and while I’ve never received anything brutal at writers’ group there is no way to guarantee nice responses. I wouldn’t be sharing my work if I didn’t want criticism, but there’s criticism and then there’s cruelty, and when you share art, even for the sake of criticism, there’s no protection from cruelty. The words, the looks, you get in response might be a heavy burden, and as Pretty Woman so deftly put it, “the bad things are easier to believe.”
Sharing is beer-ing (if you like, probably)
One other play on bearing, while I’m on it: beer-ing… at the pub after writers’ group. 3 euro pints at Cafe des Artistes, apparently the cheapest pint in Paris. Or 2 euro for a glass of wine, and sometimes it even comes in a wine glass! Great fun.
I must recommend writers groups to writers – the gamble of baring and bearing (and bearing), in my experience at least, has definitely paid off!