Friday, 8 March 2013

Pixilization Not Allowed

In my early twenties, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a travel article of mine about Australia.  It wasn’t the first thing I'd published, but it was the first noticed by my social circle.  They phoned me at work, waved congratulations across the Boulevard of the Allies.  I didn’t write for five years after that.  Not – I didn’t submit.  I didn’t write.

Few writers can hope to be anonymous.  Words expose us, even when they’re disguised in fiction.  When we commit words to page, we bare a shoulder, undo a button, slide down a zip without the modesty of a well placed fan or a dob of pixilization.  Not too scary a proposition until the What-Happens-Next.

The What-Happens-Next is the friend of a friend at a party who’s read your story and has an opinion.  The interview, the comment at the end of the blog, the tweet, the email that says you aren’t an invisible voice or an omniscient narrator but a human expressing imperfection. 

I see you.

Jon Walker, the author of Five Wounds and Pistols! Treason! Murder! recently said that we collect readers the way that we do friends.  If you’ve seen a copy of Five Wounds, you could believe Jon had each book individually printed for a friend.  There’s something decadently reader-gifting about his book.


Although your writing begins expression in a solitary space, it’s ultimately about relationship.  Our readers want to hear our voice and respond, sometimes not kindly, but sometimes with such clarity, they make us better writers.  While it takes courage to toss parts of ourselves out there, do resist the temptation to either micro-manage the trajectory or to turn your back on reader response altogether.  Wait for your words to land; wait to see what comes of them.

Whatever comes next, it isn’t personal.  It isn’t about your worth as a human being.  It’s about your identity as a writer.  Laura Fish, author of Strange Music and Flight of the Black Swans, once said that each writer is a layer in the growing structure of their literary genre.  Without your layer, the genre goes in a different direction.  You’re an important member of the literary tribe.


I say you're on a quest.  It's called being a writer.  Like any good quest, the crucial journey is the internal one.  Who you are seeps into your writing and exposes itself to random scrutiny.  The less you know about your identity, the more it flaunts itself.  Chances are, what you're not seeing is exactly what your reader will hone in on and speak about.

Do three things for me.  First, make a list of what type writer you are.  The obvious bits.  Nationality, region, gender, genre, topic.  Next, look for an archetype that identifies yourself.  Hero, wise old woman, fool, sin eater, monster.  Lastly, sit with your archetype surrounded by the weapons of nationality, region, gender, genre and topic.  Listen to the savage little voice you usually ignore.  Feel that singular emotion you don't want to express.  Discover what object lies at the core of your psyche – a stone, molten lava, ancient oak, wounded deer.

If you get that far, drop me an email and we'll see what happens next.  Come on.  Risk it.

                                          Monster by Diana Afanador

1 comment:

  1. I think your exercise applies equally to us readers.We stand in the bookshop reading the jacket blurb and scanning random pages. In this we look those factors listed in the first exercise to see if they will pull us into the world of the story. Particularly if we identify traits in the main protagonist that we either view as present in us or wish were. Then we read the story, play the game of deciphering which opinions are really those of the author and which are merely devices to move the story along. In doing so we recognise things about ourselves (some good, some bad)and decide if we want the writer and their characters to be our "friends"; friends who may actually help us make sense of the world we inhabit