It's Not You
Alice Hoffman explained that when she rewrote she looked at her books as something written by someone else. Likewise, Joshilyn Jackson encouraged writers to look upon their finished work as a product, not their “left leg.” It’s a strange dance writers have to learn, to both tap into what they most want to share and yet be removed enough from the work to be able to both see it clearly and have skin thick enough to market it. It was a distance, I have to admit, I was unwilling to allow for many years, and mainly for this reason – I wanted the world to know who I was. The work was me, and I wanted it to be so. This way, people could learn who I truly was while I was safely out of the room.
The problem—well, one of the problems—with this is that people don’t read someone’s work to learn about the author. Not that they aren’t curious, but in the end we read for the same reason we do anything—to learn about ourselves. Perhaps not consciously, but no matter what we do, they eye of our attention always moves inward.
And while our own work takes us inward, the beauty of art, as in all communication, is that our journey becomes an invitation and an inspiration for another person’s journey. And so, in answering your own private questions, you become a servant of something larger. It is hard to bear this in mind when you are in the nitty-gritty of the work, but it is why Faulkner advised us to kill our darlings, which is yet another way of saying what Hoffman and Jackson had learned.
It reminds me of dating in a way. There is nothing so attractive as someone being interested in you. Not someone wanting your attention, not even someone complimenting you, but someone interested in what you are. This is more than flattery. This is someone recognizing in you something of interest in themselves, and as they follow your trajectory of light in conversation and in touch they are finding yet another path to travel toward the only destination they have ever sought.