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ANN BRADY

Author, Speaker & Mentor

STORYTELLERS BLUES

I ask you: Why is it so hard to share your creative writing with others?

When it comes to talking about your writing some authors find that there are few sentences that strike fear into their hearts quite like the question, “So, what is your story all about, then?” Now as someone who loves scribbling stories and has done so for most of her life, I love answering this question. However, there are many established writers who are and have always been shy and sensitive about the work they produce. This is also apparent in new and developing writers as well, for they too often appear reticence  in sharing what they have written which is something that occasionally appears to surprise their friends, especially if the writer is normally a chronic over sharer who has a recognised habit of relating anecdotes in unnecessarily elaborate detail usually with expanded theatrical enthusiasm.

Now, if you are one of those types of writer and someone suddenly attacks you with those familiar, bloodcurdling utterances of “Can I read it?” or “Give me the basic outline of the plot”), then you will recognise this situation for what it is; an absurdity of your own shyness. To be honest you would probably feel more comfortable handing over your autobiography, which details the events and experiences of your actual life, than the written novel which features the fictional people you have created?

Yet, as I look at the reasoning behind your reaction, it makes me reflect on that very question - ‘Can I read it?’ The first answer that springs to my mind is that perhaps to many writers they feel that fiction is somehow more revealing than autobiography. By handing a friend something you’ve creatively written it makes me wonder if this leaves you feeling exposed and thus vulnerable. After all, a fictional story is in many respects much like a dream: whilst much of the structure and the narration will have been consciously deliberated over and perhaps carefully crafted, the other part of a novel is more down to intuition. It’s also written in an unconscious and impulsive state of mind.

When it comes to the heart of the story – in other words the basic idea which inspired you to sit down and write in the first place – well this often tends to spontaneously spring on a person.  What many writers don’t often understand, especially at the beginning of their writing journey is how unconsciously they feel their way through their story. Actually more than they consciously think they do or in fact craft it.

Graham Bradshaw once wrote that, “No novelist understands completely the springs of his or her imagination.” I think what he was trying to say was, that if you allow your friends and family to peruse and poke at the workings of your ideas and imagination then you are liable to find it a quite intimidating prospect.

What I am trying to say is, that when you write creatively, you may feel you are actually exposing yourselves to what some would call the Freudian analysis. It causes you to worry how your friends will scrutinise your stories, especially that they may be trying to locate some links between fiction and reality. Perhaps even attempting to dig at the writer’s fears, hopes and beliefs in their story. In contrast, and bizarrely, writers feel less exposed when describing their own real life events from the real world, than they do exposing the unconscious world of their imagination when creating a fictional universe.

Added to this could be the concern that one’s friends may ‘read more into’ their story, or  perhaps read what is not really there. Regardless of what you think it is very difficult to write any story without a moral – even if that moral is a nihilistic message regarding the absence of morals and meaning in this world. Often there is an ideology, at least of some kind, lurking within the tale. Personally, I do believe that most writers might be slightly frightened that friends and family may start to extract ideas or beliefs, from their written work, and ascribe to them, the author.

Friends like many readers, could assume that the main character is purported to be based on the writer, or is an aspiration of the writer. In other words the person the writer would prefer to actually be. You have to admit that it is much easier being explicit about what one thinks, feels and believes when telling an autobiographical tale. Whereas, on the opposite side, in fiction the writers work becomes much more open to misinterpretation. This means that it is more difficult to share creative work than most other forms of writing. Why? Because of the emotional attachment all writers tend to have for their written work. It is natural to become personally invested in the world you have developed. As well as being emotionally attached to the characters that you have created. Strangely, creative writing is known to address subjects that writers sometime may find themselves having the most difficulty discussing directly.

If you want to be a good writer then it is necessary to write with honesty. This means often tackling subjects which can prove to be emotionally painful to them. The aim being to evoke an equivalent response in their readers. If the author elicits such a response in themselves as well then great. Emotionally charged writing is often the best form of writing. However, this makes it more difficult to actually disclose and discuss it with one’s friends.

Remember, writing creatively can be and is a daunting process; in the main due to the romantic ideas that surround this pastime. Readers tend to imagine us writers sitting down at a desk in a small, private apartment, where we passionately create an entire manuscript in one single sitting. It is thought that the first reader of the first draft will, without question, gasp and find themselves reduced to tears. Perhaps they may even declare it to be a work of genius. Of course, the truth of the matter is that writing is rarely ever like this. We writers go through endless revisions, often facing criticism at every new phase of the process. Not just from helpful friends, but also from agents, and editors. And that’s before it ever reaches the reading public. As such this romantic notion of spontaneous genius just makes it more and more difficult for writers to face any form of criticism about our creative work. Well, unless maybe it’s academic work?

Because of this belief in how writers produce and write fiction, it forces us to set the bar to achieve success, higher than we would with any other type of work. And, unfortunately, it also sometimes forces us to view any constructive criticism as evidence of failure, rather than it being good advice. The result, naturally, is that we writers then find it more intimidating to show our creative writing to other people. But, after viewing the actual process of achieving publication, I would say to you all, that allowing your friends to read your work could well be a crucial, important and constructive stage in the writing process. So, regardless of how daunting you might think it is, do it and keep a smile on your face..


Finally, just to let you know that even someone like me can be hit by these sorts of questions and hesitate, let me tell you about my experience. Recently I have written a new book (not a full size novel) a novelette, titled The Brampton Musketeers. Although the theme is about a school reunion it mainly features a group of young girls growing into young women, charting certain specific parts of their lives. The story has some slightly explicit sexual scenes in it which goes against what I normally write. As such, I too felt the hesitation in showing this to my reader friends as I thought they may not approve of this change of direction in my writing. However, they loved it. Their affirmation has given me the courage to place the book forward for publication so it will be out in a few weeks.


So, this goes to show you all that even a writer of thirty years’ experience can still suffer the storyteller blues. Which means don’t hesitate. Be brave and face your friends and family with your stories head on. Remember, above all you are a writer. Someone who creates a world that people love to delve into. Let them go there and soon.


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