It’s not quite eight am and I’m already at work. My hair is still wet because I spent too much time writing to dry it. I think I might be about to deliver two manuscripts to my agent this week. One she’s seen and I’ve rewritten to her notes. The other is something brand new.
For years, I’ve hardly given her anything. And now it’s all boom-boom-boom.
The fact, is, as I finally realised last week, I’ve been hiding.
The writing life can be painful. Writers have lots and lots and lots of ways to hide. My way, for the past few years, has been not finishing anything. If I don’t finish anything, then nobody can publish anything and I don’t have to go through any more publishing pain. That’s been my (totally unacknowledged) strategy.
My first hiding strategy as a writer was to write texts so entirely unreadable that they defied analysis. They twisted and turned with dizzying complexity. I was showing off, of course. But I was also hiding.
I see this in my MA students all the time. The most common way to hide is cramming in any number of unnecessary opacities in character and story…usually because the writer is hiding what they fear is an inadequate plot. Then there’s hiding behind characters or a strange point-of-view. Then there is the failure-to-commit-to-one-manuscript. The ‘I won’t write an ending, I’ll let the reader decide what happened,’ is perhaps my least favourite of the many ways writers hide, but it’s hard to say. The ways we hide are endless.
Writing reveals the limitations of your intellect. It reveals what we used to be comfortable with calling ‘your soul’. It reveals how you think and feel. If you do it properly, there’s really no hiding place.
That’s what critics mean when they say a narrative is ‘honest’. It’s not that it’s non-fiction. It’s honest because the writer is not trying to hide.
Hiding is a pointless exercise. It’s like a big neon sign showing the way to your imperfections…and you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to do the best you can. If that was good enough for Homer and Milton and Austen and Byatt (who are all imperfect, too) it’s also good enough for you.