Word-Babies

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:

Wahoo! Image: catherinepowen.com

Wahoo!
Image: catherinepowen.com

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.

I just can't do it, Herbert! I can't have another haiku rejected! Image: criterion.com

I just can’t do it, Herbert! I can’t have another haiku rejected!
Image: criterion.com

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.

4 thoughts on “Word-Babies

  1. Kate Curtis

    I think it is difficult to write and it *not* be a part of you in someway. I feel balanced is best. Mostly. A little bit detached, a little bit of heart. Having said that, when I get someone to read my writing, the sentences they consider ‘off’ are usually the ones I’m most attached to. It’s not always the case, but perhaps that supports the ‘detached’ approach!

    Your stories are so emotive it’s hard to believe you’re not deeply attached to all of them. I sensed a bit of you in Claire in ‘Skin’. My imagination? 🙂

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Hi Kate! You’ve hit on another great point there – often the bits we’re most attached to are the ones which are overwritten, too complicated, too ‘purple’, or just too personal to resonate with another person. So, yeah – I think trying to strike a balance between the two approaches is probably best. It’s funny how often in life the answer to whatever’s troubling you lies in ‘balance’!

      And yes, there may be a little bit of me in Claire. A smidgen. Maybe. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Maurice A. Barry

    It depends, doesn’t it? As a researcher or a journalist it’s vital to have that ‘disinterested’ (not a great word but it will do) or ‘detached’ point of view. You need to report the situation, from all available sides first before switching to opinion.
    As a writer of fiction you have the choice. You can step back and report the facts, thus letting the characters and plots speak for themselves or you can have at it and infuse bits of raw power and emotion.
    In the end, everyone has their own opinion and, frankly, under the circumstances, there can hardly be right or wrong in this but, for what it’s worth, I like it best when the writer does a bit of both. The opinionated bits then come through more as highs or lows or as punctuation; something that adds interest and value.

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks, Maurice. You’re right, of course, that different styles of writing will require different points of view. It’s a risk to put too much of yourself into your fiction, though, both from the point of view that rejection of that work hurts more, and also the authorial voice can interfere too much with the story. I guess a delicate touch, and a balance of both, is the way to go. I’ve something else to aim for, now! 🙂

      Reply

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