At a library presentation on memoir writing last week, I spoke about the need for discipline and motivation, dealing with the fears, and then going ahead and doing it – getting one’s life stories down on paper. I also cautioned the students – all adults over 50 years of age – not to share their work with just anyone. And afterward, several of them spoke of doing exactly that, not with good results.
A writer since my teens and a teacher of creative writing for over 25 years, I know so well what the bad side can be when we share our writing with others. By others I mean people – instructors, fellow students, family members or friends – who are not receptive to what we’ve put down on the page. They can be misunderstanding, impatient, insensitive and downright mean-spirited, sometimes all this together in one reader.
An adult writing student shared this story. She took a summer conference workshop with a famous poet. Like some other prestigious writers of various genres who are paid a great deal of money to appear at high-priced conferences, this poet was arrogant and disdainful. “This is not a poem,” my student, who had been writing poetry for many years, was told when she brought in her first effort. There was no explanation, no guidance on how to make it into a “real” poem. Result? She did not write another poem for the next four years. I call what this poet/instructor did, “trashing” (dictionary: to criticize, dismiss, or condemn as worthless), and I’ve heard stories like this from other students and colleagues over the years.
Maybe this has happened to you; maybe your work has been trashed, once or perhaps more than once. I wonder how you handled it, how it affected you.
A former adult student insisted on showing everything he wrote – short stories and essays -- to his wife. She found fault with all of it. She wasn’t a writer, and I never figured out why she was so nasty, or why he didn’t listen to me and stop sharing the work with her. He kept on writing, and age 69, still does. A tough hide in his case, I suppose. But I wouldn’t bet on too many writers having that kind of boldness and perseverance.
As for me, I have two first readers, colleagues I trust and respect, one for copy editing and one for structure and developmental editing. They were there for me with my memoir, Only You, which Oak Tree Press published in April 2014, and are with me now, for a short novel I’m completing, based on my 30 years experience, good to terrible, of being a landlady in my upscale resort town of East Hampton, Long Island.
Find people you trust, even just one person, before you pass around those words of yours. It can make all the difference in producing work you are proud of and feel confident about sending into the world.
Eileen's memoir, Only You, set in her teenage years (the late 1950s) in Queens, New York was published by Oak Tree Press in 2014. The story relates her personal experience growing up in Queens, New York, of her doomed-to-fail marriage at eighteen to a nineteen-year-old boy from their candy store crowd. We learn how two naive, uninformed teenagers were influenced by social and religious pressures, to disastrous consequences.