Writer’s Dirge

To create a thing,
to hold it,
to read it,
to see it,
and never to know it.
The dread word stands in my way.
Only if I could forget it, forget myself, forget every pen-stroke, key-stroke, moment of inspiration and frustration; only then could I know this thing as itself.
I have the misfortune to be inside, looking out; never outside, looking in.
Perhaps readers envy the intimate knowledge writers have of their own work. When I was younger, I might even have been guilty of such misunderstanding.
Now I know better.
I am too close to the canvas to ever see the picture. No amount of earthly time can give me the distance I need because the picture itself is indelibly engraved in me.
Never  will I walk up to a shelf, see a title or a cover that interests, lift this story up, and judge it as the thing it is.
Knowing a thing too well can mean not being able to know it at all.
The implications are overwhelming, ironic, and inescapable. I cannot know my own work save in brief glimpses through the eyes of others.
That is how it is, and how it must be, and I must accept it and continue.
The joys of writing and the chance of giving something precious (as many books have been to me) to someone else, are far greater than this little shard of horror. But there will always, I think, be a part of me that is sad that I cannot split myself in two and read, as only a person other than me can, my own work.
It is not that I think my work great, or that I worry it is bad. I have spoken of that already. It is my simple desire to know it.
I want to write a book, and read it too. But I have discovered a sad truth of writers.
The stories we can never read, are our own.

About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

20 responses to “Writer’s Dirge

  • yikici

    I guess it’s a case of not being able to view it objectively, as it’s your baby, so to speak, so it’s difficult to critique it honestly, like you would other writers work?

    • jubilare

      That is a part of it, or an offshoot of the problem. Even when we learn how to effectively edit and critique our own work, we will always have blind-spots because we are too close.

      What I am talking about here, though, is something that goes deeper than that. Or at least it does for me, and I doubt I am alone. There is a kind of despair in the realization that I will never really know what my story looks like, how it reads, to the rest of the world. I know too much about it. It’s the ultimate Spoiler.
      I still enjoy reading what I have written, but it is in a very different way from my enjoyment of others’ stories. Fiction is meant to be encountered from the outside. I think that is its ultimate purpose. And the great irony is that those who create stories can never encounter their own stories as those stories were meant to be encountered.

      • yikici

        I totally understand what you mean, that book reading experience will not ever be the same for our own work, for me a doubt always plagues my mind, when I read back my work, I’m always thinking ‘does that have the desired effect I wanted for this piece?’ -especially when I’m trying to write a haunting piece, I often scare easily when reading a scary story, but those scary stories I write leave me with no chills, so I’m like, ‘is this at all scary?’, so in that respect, you’re totally right, we writers cannot ever read our own work like we would with others, we just know the mechanics too well…

        • jubilare

          I, too, have found haunting and scary are among the hardest things to judge in one’s own work. I’ve often been surprised by just how creepy or scary something I’ve written actually is. The same problem comes in with characters who are distinctly gray. It is so hard to judge whether they strike just the right balance of good and bad with a reader. :P

  • Urania

    I’ve never thought about my own writing in this way, but it is definitely true. Sometimes, though, I go back to something I wrote and I’m impressed that those words, ideas, or metaphors came out of me, because I know that I’ve lost whatever inspiration I had at that moment and that I could never write those words again. Which realization is both inspiring and humbling. Inspiring because of the way that writing can preserve a moment from the past. Humbling because I realize I’m totally at my Muse’s mercy. He already knows that, though.

    • jubilare

      I have the same experience, and I’ve learned the hard way that when inspiration hits, I have to write it down immediately. That was when I and my notebook became inseparable. ;)
      It may be a no-brainer to say a writer will never read her own work in the way anyone else does, but I’d never really thought about the implications until recently. I found I needed to vent about it in order to be able to “move on.”
      Thanks for stopping by! It’s good to see you about. :)

  • evan72

    Hi Jubilare!

    As you published this, almost moment-for-moment I finished my final edits on my own novel in preparation for beta readers. You’re right…isn’t it ironic that we will never know what our novel is like to read? But I suppose it’s the same way with anything in life–gotta give a little to get a little. This is why, though, I want an audience…in fact, this whole debate is in a lot of ways why I seek to be published. I don’t want to read my book. But I want to know what it’s like to. So if by some small miracle this book of mine is published, I want to know my readers, and hear them, and understand them…so that maybe, if only vicariously, one day I will have read my book. Hopefully hundreds, thousands, millions of times. I write so that others can read for me, and do the greatest of the work, which I never could.

    Great post!


    • jubilare

      First off, congratulations! And may you have good fortune to be able to publish, and the even better fortune to be read.

      I think you and I come to the same conclusion from opposite ends of the spectrum.
      I very much want to read my own stories, and feedback from readers has never been a reason for me to write. I can’t identify with your desire to know your readers and learn from them what it is like to read your book. I want, instead, to know what it would be like for me to read my book if I hadn’t written it. My situation is rather pathetic, really. Your remedy can’t help me.
      I do know that a book, a story, or any writing, is a pointless thing if it is never read. I want my work to be read, and by read I mean possessed, by other people. I want it to become what it can only become to them. But I do not necessarily want to see what it becomes to them because that might destroy what it is to me.

      I explain very badly. It is a difficult thing to explain, and I have failed before. Simply, I want to give my writing away so that it can become more, but keep what it originally was to me. My only regret is that I cannot both create a thing and also encounter it as if it were not mine.

  • christina kann

    Wow. This strikes my heart; it’s so pure and real. Any writer knows this feeling, the feeling of being plagued with writing instead of gifted. Truly excellent depiction. Maybe this will help normal people understand why we’re crazy!

    • jubilare

      Hahah, yeah. I’m not sure there’s much hope in getting them to understand why we’re crazy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try! Ultimately, I am very glad I write, but it definitely carries a price, and sometimes an unexpected one. Here’s to neither of us giving up! :)

  • stephencwinter

    That’s a really powerful and poignant piece. The great Paul Ricouer’s “One’s Self as an Other” came to mind as I read this and also Aslan’s words to Shasta in “The Horse and His Boy”, “You will not be told any story but your own.” One day, perhaps…

  • Hannah Graham

    Once you finish writing it, we will knock you over the head so that you get amnesia. Then you can read it. Problem solved!

    I know what you mean, though, and I relate. If you read your own work, it may seem richer from the outside, and the characters may even become clearer, and you might even discover what the heck you’re really trying to say. You’d get to see all your hard work in the form others see it and look at it as something brand new. But that’s impossible. It’s like trying to figure out what your face looks like without a mirror.
    Although if you’re really moody like I am, your story will look different every few days. That helps a little. :P

    • jubilare

      If only it were that easy.

      Or harder still, trying to see your own face as someone who is not you might see it. The mirror shows us the picture, but the very fact that it is ours and we know it to be ours changes it somehow. The closest we come is when something drastic happens to our face and we have to get used to it all over again. Perhaps someone drastically editing one’s novel might have a similar effect.
      It ain’t just you, trust me. ;)
      Not only do I have very different views of my writing from day to day, but so do most of the other writers I’ve ever talked to. This might help you feel better, or at least less alone:

  • palecorbie

    When Shanra got her e-book out earlier this month, she said that seeing it in “print” was change enough in perspective for her to read many things as an outsider…maybe it might be the same for you?

    • jubilare

      *Shakes head* There’s nothing short of severe mental trauma that could allow me to read a chapter as if I knew neither the character nor the world.

      I can imagine the outsider perspective, I do that all the time in editing, but that isn’t the same thing. It’s ok, though. What I lose in never being able to encounter my own writing as if it weren’t my own, I more than gain back through the pleasure of getting to touch the worlds. If given the choice between the two, I would change nothing.

      I’m only whinging because I can’t have both.

  • Stephanie

    Yes. Yes. YES. Exactly. I can’t add anything to what you have voiced so perfectly, so I must merely nod my vehement agreement. Unintentional rhyme.

  • technicolorlilypond

    This is so lovely. Thanks for re-posting it on my blog, I do empathize very much. :-)

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