The Intimate Reader
I've always been secretive about my writing. I used to hide my private stories (not for school) in a box beneath the bed, protected with elaborate safeguards, and buried under layers of decoy material in case of accidental discovery.
I'm not a writer who likes to share the process.* The thought of a writing workshop, where you read out your latest work and lay it bare to the spontaneous critiques of your listeners, fills me with a cold horror. I don't show my nearest and dearest my work in progress. I don't discuss my plot lines with my husband (I did this once, and it killed the project stone dead on the spot). I like to polish and revise in private, and when the manuscript is in the best shape I think I can make it, I'll send it off into the ether and try to forget about it until the verdict returns, in the shape of the reject letter (and I've had plenty of those) or the encouraging email.
But now Michael is reading the draft version of Crow Country. This makes me edgy. Generally, he is very positive, but he's also excellent at spotting mistakes, and he's not afraid to ask questions if something doesn't make sense. He doesn't read much fiction, and he's impatient. He wants to know why, and he's not used to waiting for the text to reveal the answer further on. I suppose if I was lying in bed next to Hilary Mantel as I was reading Wolf Hall,** I'd probably ask her questions about too, but I must say I find it unnerving***.
Perhaps I wouldn't be so nervous if I couldn't see him reading it; half a dozen other people have read it by now. On the other hand, I'm not married to any of them.
I don't mind people reading what I've written once it's all bound up and printed as a book. (This is lucky, considering my choice of profession.) It's as if, once it gets to that stage, it's received some kind of official approval: it's been stamped READY FOR THE WORLD. A book has its own independent existence. But before it's published (born?), it's raw and vulnerable and helpless; it's not quite separate from me, still living in my imagination and supported by it, alterable, not quite existing in its own right. I hesitate to say, like a foetus in the womb, but it is a little like that.
This particular half-formed baby is due in September. There's plenty of time to fix the mistakes, to feed it and make it stronger, so it can face the world with confidence. And I know I can't do all that on my own; I need the help of expert, trusted readers. And Michael, though he would never say so himself, is one of them.
* Which, paradoxically, is why co-writing Dear Swoosie was an exhilarating, liberating experience, but one which I could never have undertaken except with such a trusted friend and colleague (and brilliant writer) as Penni.
** Jeez, it's good. 600 pages of solid, nourishing meat and not one word too long.
*** No doubt Hilary Mantel would be unnerved to find herself in bed with me too, but never mind.