THE DEVIL’S GOSPEL
AN EXPERIMENT (PART 1 OF 3)
“ON EXPOSING YOURSELF”
As you may know, it’s been a while since I wrote a blog entry, as the last three weeks have been taken up by posting the first chapter of my novel-in-progress, The Devil’s Gospel, in daily bite-sized pieces.
(And am I the only one who had a sixth-grade English teacher who pounded into my head the rule that book titles should be underlined and magazine titles italicized? Or am I just the only one who was so traumatized by said pounding that NOT doing it makes me tremble at the thought of getting a B? Anyway. #GoodGirlIssues).
I thought it might be interesting for my readers, and for the sake of all those writers out there who have Desk Drawer Projects – meaning written pieces that remain hidden at the bottom of their desk drawers in perpetuity, for fear of exposing them to the open air (read: an opinionated audience) – to know what it’s like to take one of those Projects and just throw it out the virtual window for anyone on the virtual street to examine and comment upon.
Well, here’s what it’s like: Absolutely Fucking Terrifying.
Admittedly, this isn’t a very comforting response for writers who already have deep-seated phobias about anyone reading their work to begin with (Emily Dickinson, I’m talking to YOU), but I’m not going to lie. Even for someone like me, who makes her living through writing (albeit screenwriting as opposed to fiction writing), the terror was nearly overwhelming.
That very first day, after I posted the initial bite-sized piece, I thought I was going to vomit through my eyes.
“But why?” I kept asking myself, while breathing heavily into a paper bag. “Why? Your writing ends up on television, where millions of people – okay, depending on the show, possibly dozens of people – see it! Why are you almost eye-barfing over something so small and insignificant?”
Naturally, that’s when my snarky, logical, asshole left hemisphere stepped in and answered, “Because it’s not insignificant to you, moron.”
And that was my first epiphany.
Which, much to my intellectual chagrin, I honestly hadn’t considered until I’d posted the first bite. I just figured, hey, writing is writing. It’s gonna be the same thing as handing in a script to the boss. But it turns out these things we create for ourselves (not for money, but for ourselves), these personal things we craft out of love and passion and our need to say something meaningful to us – these things are as fragile and nerve-studded as our genitals.
Giving them away indiscriminately is the equivalent of giving everyone within a five-mile radius permission to just walk right on up and fuck you. Sure, some folks will go easy on the vadge, but there are also those evil motherfuckers who’ll pick up a broken bottle from the street and make you bleed.
Think the metaphor is too violent? Think again.
Every nice comment I read, it was like having a tiny mind orgasm. But every mean-spirited comment I came across just ground that broken glass right into my brain’s soft parts. It, quite literally, hurt. And not just in an abstract way. It made me sick to my stomach. It made my heart pound. It made my head ache.
It made me feel bad. Physically and psychologically.
And I think, even before we’ve posted a word, somehow writers instinctively know that’s the risk we run by taking a chance like this: the risk of being hurt. Hurt bad, in an inside place we usually protect with the utmost care.
But here’s the thing, to skew a recent bullying meme:
It gets better.
I shit you not, it really does. Day after day, post after post, slowly that pain starts to morph and change until those mean-spirited comments feel less like broken glass being shoved into your privates and more like, say, a mosquito bite between your fingers. Still not pleasant, still not something you’d ask for – but nothing that would have you begging for death like the other option.
And that’s when I had my second epiphany.
The fear of that pain is worse than the pain itself. (And I think we can drop the broken-glass-to-the-genitals metaphor here – ‘cause I’m pretty sure being afraid of that and actually having it done to you are both fucking awful.) Once you’ve had someone tell you that your work is shite, that using the word “writer” to describe you is an offense to anyone who’s ever held a pen, that you couldn’t whip out a literary classic like “Dick and Jane” without a team of ghost-writers – you stop feeling hurt and start going numb. Numbness, in this case, not implying that shocky PTSD thousand-yard-stare numbness, but simply the inability to feel pain.
Maybe the more accurate way of putting it is that you start to build a callus around that soft, vulnerable part of you. The nasty shit just starts to bounce off, but – and here’s the bonus – you can still feel the good stuff. In fact, once the bad stuff stops hurting, there’s only the good stuff left over.
I’ll admit, it’s not the greatest, most funnest gauntlet to run, but when you get to the other side, you can look back in relief and say, “Oh thank you tiny fetal Jesus, it’ll never be that bad ever again.”
Or maybe it will. Who knows. I’ve only done it once.
What I do know is that I came out the other side of the gauntlet feeling stronger, more confident, and – though truthfully, I’ve never suffered a shortage of this particular emotion – more “Fuck y’all! I’ll do whatever I want and you can’t stop me!” than ever.
It was, in a word, inspiring. It made me want to chuck my Write 4 Cash job and work on Devil’s Gospel full-time. (Though I won’t for now, since 1. I really like my Write 4 Cash job, and 2. Not pulling my own weight alongside the Finance would send me into a spiral of guilt and shame whence I might never escape.) It reinvigorated me, personally, as a writer, not to mention reviving my interest in a story I’ve wanted to tell for a long time.
So, what did I get it out of it all?
- I conquered a horrible fear.
- Dickwad criticisms don’t affect me anymore.
- I feel like a “real” writer. (Bugger me if I know exactly what that means – but somehow it’s true.)
- I remembered to have immense gratitude for being a writer at all.
- I got excited again about the Desk Drawer Project I’d hidden away.
And one more thing: I also found a sense of belonging within a group of very supportive friends I’ve made on Twitter.
But that story is for my next entry.