This past week I turned my FRIENDS OF MINE manuscript over to beta-readers not related to me. It's always a little nerve-wracking to turn your baby over to someone else for the first time; you want your readers to like it, and I can never help but apologize in advance for anything that's not working. We writers are our own worst critics.
Now, multiply that by eleven when the alleged opus they're reading is your life story. Or a huge chunk of your life, anyway. Now you're not only afraid they're not going to like your writing, you're afraid they're not going to like you. And that's just the beta readers, who, more often than not, are writers themselves and get the anxiety that comes with showing your work to others. I've lost sleep worrying about the 1-star reviews I'm going to get for this one. And no doubt I'll get them. You just can't please everyone. I'm worried that they're not only going to judge me, but also my family, who is a big part of this story.
When I was a grad student, I had taken an interest in memoir writing. I taught the genre as well. But then I saw the price to pay for telling the absolute truth. The late Donald Murray confessed that family members had stopped speaking to him as a result of the pieces he published. It's happened to me too. I published a creative nonfiction piece about an afternoon I spent with a guy. Even changed the names. He stopped speaking to me the day after the piece was published. Stopped looking at me, even. As if he never knew me at all. I don't regret publishing that piece. It was the best thing I'd written to that date, and I believed in it. I believed in the conviction of telling the truth. I didn't think it deserved to sit in a drawer, unseen, for the rest of its life. I would give up my existence for its.
That conviction applies to fiction as well. Even though you're making up a story, you must be truthful.
However, when it comes to nonfiction, for me, it's too high a price to pay. Besides, over the years I've had way more fun writing fiction.
So with FRIENDS OF MINE, I agonized over what to include and what to leave out. Just how far out on that limb of truth was I willing to go? As always, I felt enormous responsibility to my readers, but I also felt responsibility toward those about whom I was writing, especially my family and closest friends. In the end, I had to carefully balance these two entities, a give-and-take negotiation. I did the best I could.
I have enormous respect for anyone who has published a memoir and revealed the good, the bad, and the ugly. I respect their courage and conviction. Even for the most public celebrities, it's difficult to talk about scandals and addictions, to re-hash all that, make it public once more.
If it's so hard, then why go through with it? Why am I publishing FRIENDS OF MINE? Because when something needs to be born, I can't ignore it. And I've come to recognize that call when I hear it. And follow it. Laypeople don't always understand that, see it more as an exercise in vanity. Even in fiction, it's cost me readers and positive reviews. But one letter from a reader telling me they connected to something I wrote--fiction or non, makes up for any lost reader and negative review. Makes up for them tenfold. Already I've received that validation for FRIENDS OF MINE.
I hope you'll be one of those readers too.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.