So, I got the news the other day that another story of mine has managed to find a home in an online literary magazine. I was, of course, gladdened at the news.
There may even have been a bit of this kind of thing going on:
Strangely, though, this time around, getting the good news felt even more satisfying than ‘normal’ (it still feels strange to think of my life as a place where I know how it feels to be published – so bear with me!) It was as if I wasn’t just pleased that a story of mine was being published, but also that this particular story was being given a chance to go out into the world and (hopefully) be read. All the stories I’ve written mean something to me, of course, and I only submit the ones I really liked to write and which I feel have some merit as a readable piece, but this one… well. This one’s special.
The story is, I think, even more a part of me than any of the others. It has a basis in medieval romance, it features some of my favourite legendary characters – revivified and made my own, of course – and it allowed me, when writing it, not only to express myself through language but also to display some of what is closest to my heart. I think this story is far more than just 1500 words of text which I have written and drafted and redrafted and formed into something that holds water as a story; it’s me, in textual form. Writing it was instinctual, almost obvious – as soon as I got the spark of the idea behind this story, the words lined up obediently in my mind, waiting their turn to settle onto the page. Of course, I then had to hone and redraft and re-read and redraft some more, but essentially the story has stayed the same. Writing this story truly was one of those magical moments you read about, when you feel like all you’re doing is taking dictation from somewhere ‘else’, and the words are coming to you from a very deep place.
I know, for sure, that not all my story writing experiences will be this profound. That’s why this one stands out so much, and was so memorable.
At the same time, I wonder if it’s a bad thing to be so emotionally attached to a piece of work. If, for instance, this story had not met with editorial favour, and had been rejected out of hand, and had been scornfully thrown back in my face (not that this sort of thing really happens – everyone I’ve had a rejection from has been very nice, even apologetic, about it!), would it have been an emotional disaster for me? Would I have felt, even more keenly than usual, that it was me, and not my story, which was being rejected?
Writing is, of course, a very emotional and personal business. Everything you write, to a greater or lesser extent, is a manifestation of who you are. The story may not be based on your life – in fact, sometimes, it’s better to avoid autobiography at all costs! – but the writing of it, the images you choose, the settings, the time periods, the connections between your characters, the relationship dynamics, and so much more, all reveal a little about you, how you think, how you feel, and how you see the world. In that sense, then, all stories are ‘word-babies’ – precious, treasured and rare. But is it healthier to see them strictly as pieces of work, in the same way that a block-layer would view a wall he’s just built or an architect a building she’s designed? You do your work to the best of your ability, until you’re proud to stand over it and call it yours; you submit it wherever it’s going; you leave it behind you and move on to the next project, clear-minded and full of enthusiasm. You don’t send everything out on submission with your heart in your mouth, terrified that it’ll be rejected, and that it won’t find a home anywhere, and that people will think you’re ridiculous for even having written it. If every writer worked like that, nobody would submit anything, and we’d all be in hospital with nervous exhaustion.
So, I’m proud of all my stories, and all of them reflect an aspect of me, whether it’s a fear I have, or a dark imagining, or a childhood memory twisted into something that never was. All of them, I hope, also express something about the world – they have a larger comment to make on society or humanity or whatever it might be. This recently accepted story, though, my real and true ‘word-baby’, says more about me than it does about the world. It’s more my affectionate farewell to characters I’ve loved all my life than it is a larger cultural statement, and it’s probably closer to my heart than is healthy or advisable. I’m very glad it was accepted for publication, then, both from a health and a craft point of view; I hope, even if it had been rejected, though, that I’d have been able to pick myself up and start again with it. I hope I’ve learned enough, even at this stage on my writing journey, to know that a piece of work which means so much to me is worth fighting for.
What do you think? Should writing be about creating ‘work’, from which you can easily emotionally detach, or do you find that your writing is more a part of you, from which you hate to be parted? Or a bit of both, or neither? Do tell.