The other day on twitter, someone asked if I had a specific person in mind when I wrote, someone to whom I was writing. He had written something for his son, and having that audience in his head helped him.
I started to answer with a "No, absolutely not. That's the sort of thing that would paralyze me." and then realized the reason behind my answer was actually a good deal more complicated, so I'm giving it here.
So let's step back in time to the summer of 2008, when I was at Clarion. It's probably no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers. He was also my week 4 instructor. And the way Clarion works is that the instructors run the critique sessions of the stories that get workshopped that week, and then also have a one-on-one conference with the writers. So, you know, no big deal, only someone whose writing I thought was brilliant going to be reading and picking apart something I wrote, and then meeting with me in person to tell me exactly what he thought. No pressure, right?
Let me just say that if I ever take up a career in burglary, the first thing I am stealing is the copy of my week 4 story out of the Clarion archives. It is, perhaps, the worst thing I have ever written. And it is that level of disaster because I focused on the audience, and forgot about the thing I had come there to do: tell a story.
Thankfully, Neil is as kind as he is talented, so when it came time for our conference, instead of rehashing the horribleness of what I had written, he said, "I watched you during the critique, so I know you know what's wrong with the story. Let's talk about your writing, instead. Tea?"
And so we had tea, and talked, and one of the things we talked about was fear. Fear that people would think things about me, because of what I had written. That they would judge me. The fear that made me focus on the audience, and not on the story. The fear that would suffocate any talent that I had, unless I told it to go fuck itself, and wrote what I needed to write.
I'd like to tell you that happened all at once, that I am always and ever brave whenever I sit down and open a notebook. But it's hard - my grandmother reads everything I publish, you guys. I have scenes that I hide from, things it takes me multiple drafts to get the emotion right in, because it hurts, it makes me sick to my stomach to put those things on paper. I still can't write a sex scene without blushing, even when I don't remind myself that one of my regular readers is a Jesuit.
And I am always aware that I am not writing solely for myself. If I were, I would not be seeking publication. I want people to read what I write. Sometimes, I even know what people will be reading it - I have had editors ask for stories, and I have, on occasion, written things as gifts. But that is an awareness I push aside when I am writing, because I need to fill my head with story until there is no longer any room for fear.