The Second Lie
As I wrote in last month’s column, there are two lies that all writers, particularly newer writers, must contend with, both of which come in the forms of questions. The first lie, Am I any good, should instead be, Is this what I wanted to say? It's private a question, between you and yourself only. The second lie, however, has everything to do with other people.
So you’ve written something and you like it; it’s what you wanted to say. Bravo. But now you’d like to share this thing you’ve written, maybe even publish it. And so you ask, naturally enough, “Will anyone like it?” Or, perhaps more to the point, “What if no one likes it?”
What a lonely question. To be stranded alone on an island of your own taste. But this is understandable, because in making something for yourself—not to be published, or to win awards, or so girls ages 14 to 19 will buy it, but only for and from yourself—you must by necessity inhabit a place where no one else can go. It is possible, in fact, that in writing something for yourself you have for the very first time entered this realm consciously to have a good look around.
You might now feel a bit like the hiker who has scaled some snowy hill and returned with reports of having encountered a yeti. It can sound like so much ranting when there was no one to corroborate your story. But just like that hiker, all you can do is describe as clearly and honestly as you are able what it is you saw. As Jennifer Paros points out, we are all teachers, and likewise, we are all yearning to be taught.
The real question you must ask yourself is, “Am I alone?” If so, there is no one with whom you could possibly share your work, so you needn’t worry about whether anyone will like it. But if you do not believe you are alone, then you may ask yourself, “How do I best teach the world what it is I have learned?” This is a worthy question indeed, but not a question that any one person could answer for you. It will be a group effort, as you find your answer in all the questions and remarks and looks of everyone you have ever spoken to, written for, or sang with. Your work does not begin and end on the page, but goes on and on with every gesture and word you will ever offer.
I do not know what it is you’ve written, or where you will try and see it published, or if what you have written will be published, but I do know this: The world is waiting to hear from you. It has always been so. It wanted to hear from you the moment you arrived. Sometimes people will not understand what you have said, and sometimes people will wish you had not said it, and sometimes people will jump up and down with delight. Either way, all that you are hearing in response to what you have written is the noise other people make while seeking what it is they love most.
And in the end that is the song of the world—the sound of the human heart yearning to be at peace with itself. You have no choice but to be a part of it, it’s what you do, what you have always done. But you can choose to darken the world a little by pulling the shutters down on the window through which you were meant to shine your own light. Yet even then, some light will seep out, and passersby will wonder what lies behind. If you throw open the shutters then you may learn that the greatest gift your writing can bring to another is not what you have found in the basement of your soul and have chosen to share, but rather your demonstration of the simple courage necessary to share it.