Monday, 19 June 2017

Y is for YOU

     If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
     Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
     Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
     'He was one who had an eye for such mysteries'
                                - Thomas Hardy  Afterwards

I would be surprised if, at least sometimes, you do not ponder, as  you write, 'What will the readers make of me? When what Hardy called, "my tremulous stay" in this existence is over will book lovers - perhaps for a few years - go on taking my volumes down from the shelves and think, "He/she really shared our humanity and added something to it"?' We all want to be read, to be appreciated, to be admired. Whether we're pitching an idea to a publisher, sending a MS to an editor or standing in a public forum to defend our work, we want to feel that we have conveyed what we had a burning passion to convey and that readers have, whether or not they share our passion, appreciated our integrity. Or do we?

There is much tied up in that word 'integrity'. Polonius' oft-quoted advice to his son is oft-quoted because it's wise:

          ... to thine own self be true
          And it must follow as the night the day
          Thou cans't not, then, be false to any man.

But we are in the book bizz and there are many temptations to shave bits off our integrity. When we look in the mirror of our latest offering to the world of LIT-ER-A-TURE do we really see ourselves as we are? Or are we confronted by an idealised image? Do we see lurking behind that visage the face of some other writer we admire and try to emulate? Is the mask peering back at us smeared with stylistic cosmetics in order to make it more attractive to our readers? Some while ago I was chatting to a novelist who had centred her latest work on a real historical character whom I have studied. I commented that I did not readily recognise in her work the man I had been researching. Her reply was, 'Nor do I but I've had to turn him into someone modern readers will easily understand.'

Your written work is YOU in words. That doesn't just apply to autobiography or to passionate expression of your convictions. It covers every genre - humour, crime, romance, biography, history, etc, etc, etc.  But the process of writing is an exercise in communication and it is in the act of communicating or translating you into words that distortion can occur. Being true to ourselves means setting down what we genuinely think or believe or feel, not what we'd like readers to think we think or believe or feel - or even what we would like to think we think or believe or feel, if we did not know ourselves better. Whether we are dealing in facts or ideas or character studies, 'truth' has to be the sheep dog constantly nudging us and snapping at our heels when we find ourselves writing what we think our fans will like, or what is currently fashionable or what will sell.

Is that too difficult; a counsel of perfection? Yes - but did anyone ever say professional writing was easy?

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