Too close to home? The paradox of deeper writing

November 28, 2009

Since I began writing about life issues, or, more specifically “quality” of life issues, for a lifestyle insights blog, I’ve bumped into an old writing emotion that has to do with audience.

It’s an odd reaction. The deeper, I write, the closer I get to real emotion, and the stronger the piece. My first sense is satisfaction: I have actually said something. But then, as the piece nears publication, I start to have writer’s remorse.

All this came back to me when new colleagues surrounded me at an event and said how much they liked my blog entry about a “no regrets” box I’d created for a celebration of my father’s life last spring. Instead of saying something gracious like “thanks,” I instead mumbled something about “revealing too much”.

Then I read this passage from Bill Moyers’ wonderful “Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft.” The poet Deborah Garrison told him:

Fooling With Words

Fooling With Words

“It’s a paradox, isn’t it? You create poetry when you’re alone. It’s a very private thing, and you’re not really thinking of who your audience is. You sit there in the middle of the night, trying to figure out the form it should take, looking for words that connect at some basic level to each other.”

Writing is a very solitary experience occurring in your head, Garrison says, “but somewhere in the back of your mind, you know the reason you’re doing this, the reason for the struggle, is that you have to invite other people into the experience you are writing about. You’re trying to communicate something. But the first criterion is for it to work on the page, right there in front of you.”

That’s exactly how it works for me, though I am far from a poet. On rare occasion I know I’ve hit it, and every favored old teacher and editor whispers that it’s true.

I may lose control of that supportive (if imaginary) audience once the piece is published. But the thrill of getting beneath the surface for heartfelt connection with real readers comes often enough to be worth the risk.

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