Writing was much easier when I knew that no one but my husband and I (and a few friends) would read what I had written. I’m getting ready to start my MFA program at Western Connecticut State University, and guess what? It’s time for strangers to start reading my work.
On July 30, I will start the residency section of my MFA program. That means sitting in workshops with other writers and talking about my work. I just submitted a short story for a workshop (no, Erin and Renee, I didn’t go with The Fat Suit), and it occurred to me that people are actually going to read my work and make comments. Verbal comments. I’ll have to look at them and listen to what they have to say without bursting into tears or wetting myself. Argh!
When I write for other websites besides my blog, I rarely read reviews or comments because I tend to shut down when I receive criticism. I had already decided that if I was fortunate enough to publish a novel, then I would never ever for the love of all things holy read Internet comments or reviews. Now I will not only have to read comments but also will have to listen to them, said to my face by fellow writers. Do they pass out cyanide capsules at these workshops? Can I be given a button that opens a magical trap door if I don’t like the comments?
That’s the problem with writing. If you want to do it for a living, then people have to read it. That means that other people get to see the things that I make up and write down for fun. Or as my husband says, you get to knock around in Jackie’s brain for a while. That could be intriguing or dreadful, depending on your point of view.
Take the short story that I just finished, the aforementioned The Fat Suit. A man buys a giant gray neoprene suit that causes fatty acids to seep out of his pores so that he loses weight. The fat that he squeezes out of the suit daily, however, clogs up his sewer system and causes it to back up at the most inopportune moment. My friend Erin said it reminded her of the story of the pie-eating contest in the middle of Stephen King’s Stand by Me, where everyone starts to vomit gratuitously. See, that’s what it’s like to knock around inside my brain. Melted fat and sewage.
Another reason that I dread these workshops stems from my undergraduate experience. I used to be a pretty good musician until I had a lesson teacher who treated me like garbage and fracked with my brain. Now, I really don’t play my instrument anymore. I’m a little scared that I’ll have a similar experience in grad school, although my defenses are a lot sharper than they were when I was 18.
Oh well, the only truth that I know for sure is that I will die eventually. I guess it’s time to expose my work to the world, whether the world likes it or not. If I don’t, then I’ll never know what people think of my writing. I just hope that I don’t drop dead of fright in the workshop. But just in case, I’ve discussed my wishes for my dead body with my husband in detail. These are his instructions: Donate my organs, harvest my skin and cremate me.
In other words, gut me, peel me and send me on my way to glory.