Being Real

I have nothing to say.

Inaccurate: I have a lot to say about how I feel about fiction writing, the goals I have for next year, or even the mild bitterness about my ex-husband’s support of those goals. But my immediate urge is to self-censor all that:

This is a community blog; no one needs your bullshit. You’ve already used that “writing is hard” meme a dozen times. Making goals is a recipe for failure; just go with the flow. Stop thinking in thoughts separated by a semi-colon.

I’m willing to bet if I pull up the Google Machine right now and search “writing self-censoring,” I’ll already find a dozen topics on the ways that writers shy away from opening themselves up on the page. I’m not going to do that, because it would be another reason not to write about it.

I’ve come to remove writing from storytelling. The writing is uncomplicated, even when it’s not easy. Writing is just a means to communicate an idea in the most efficient way possible, with some allowing for flare. (“Flare” is the word I use to mean I was too arrogant to pay attention in English class and only half-understand how grammar works.)

Telling a story is impossible.

Everyone knows that a story needs authenticity to stand — even though “write what you know” is dumb advice, that’s the leg it stands on. A writer does not have to bleed on the keyboard to tell a good story. But we do have to shine a light on the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that make us brilliant and ugly and flawed and perfectly human.

So, here’s my problem.

Authenticity requires vulnerability, and I’ve grown to resent my vulnerability over the last year or so. This has shown in the fiction I’ve tried to write lately versus in years past. Some of my favorite pieces of fiction here at the Cafe have been intensely personal, and tapped from parts of me that were are soft and ugly. (One of them happened without me noticing, which was strange to realize in re-reads.)

I’m one of those insufferable people who likes to look at a work and try to find the author in it, especially on the second (or third or fourth) consumption. Compelled as I am with character arcs and stories, I also want to see the creator’s hands in the mess. I like to try to guess at the process that went into it, the motivation or inspiration.

Get me talking about Supernatural long enough, and eventually we start talking about Sera Gamble’s food politics. (Spoiler: the enemy in one season is high fructose corn syrup. They’re not exactly subtle politics.) How long can any room of writers talk about Doctor Who before we start comparing The Moffat Seasons to The Moffat/Davies Seasons? (Welcome to the comment section, friends.)

And yet, I’m terrified of that sort of scrutiny being turned on me — and I do it to myself as I’m writing anymore, so it’s always in the back of my mind.  That I’m writing this right now is vulnerable. I am aware and I want to stop doing it. I do not want to share with you that I even have vulnerabilities — I want to continue playing up this disconnected, unemotional thing I try really hard at. Look at me, this is me, not caring about anything. I have absolutely zero feels about anything important.

I have a lot of writing goals for 2014. I feel ready to tackle the “actually being a fiction writer for real” thing I was doing in 2012. The first step is to finish writing, and I’m not going to be able to write until I stop being so scared about what my writing says about me.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.


  • You come from an interesting place as far as writing. Since you write non-fiction professionally, it doesn’t leave you feeling as vulnerable because you can hide behind the facts and your motivation for writing is for information and for a paycheck. I understand exactly how you feel as far as fiction writing making you feel vulnerable. My relationship with Jack began after swapping NaNo novels, and we talked about how you can see bits and pieces of the author in anything they write.

    However I think an important distinction should be made. Those were zero drafts. As you edit, you take out a lot of the telling stuff. The first (or zero or whatever you want to call it) draft is a spewing of our thoughts and feelings and a simmering of all of our experiences in a pot where we let the subconscious mind take over, and we are vulnerable. That is why we only let trusted friends beta read for us. I get the impression that the rough edges get smoothed over in the editing process. Sure people will always analyze our writing, and there will always be people like you who try to get a glimpse of the author in the story (I always like to figure out what characters are the authors favorites and see if they are a type to baby their favorites or torture them). But most people just read and don’t think too much beyond the story they take in.

    And if they are people who try to see you as who you are, vulnerability and all, that means they are kindred spirits who appreciate your vulnerability, because more than likely, they are the same.

    It’s a scary thing, but you can do this, and we’re all here with you.

    • Ashes says:

      Oh man, I would rather get naked in front of a crowd than share writing with them. I hated sharing work with Andy, even though he never had an unkind thing to say. He was constructive, but never unkind.

      I suspect you’re right that most readers are just carrying along without much thought to the writer. It’s a pretty irrational fear of mine, lol.


      • Jason Arnett says:

        What Sara said about editing yourself in subsequent drafts is TRUE. My first draft of anything is a lot of me but by the time it’s ready to be consumed I think I’ve painted over the bits that would tell anyone anything truly personal about me. I hope so, anyway.

        It’s interesting that readers often equate characters and their actions/dialogue with the author. The desire to pigeonhole people is irresistible. That said, don’t worry about it. Let ’em.

  • Neil says:

    This is pretty much the exact reason I keep thinking about, but never actually getting around to, writing a blog. I have all sorts of superficial and shallow details that I love to share. I hate letting people see past the pleasant veneer into the seething mass of personal issues that lie beneath. Even though I know it’s true of all of us, I hate it all the same.

    On a side note, I love your definition of flare. That said, they don’t teach grammar anymore, so even if you had paid attention, it wouldn’t’ve mattered.

    • Ashes says:

      I actually love running my own blog, because it’s a very controlled flow of information. Sometimes I relish having an outlet. I once wrote a series of blogs that was basically, “Man, look at all these ways that I’m sexually dysfunctional,” and it was a really cathartic and self-inspecting. That said, I totally get it. Like, nope, do not look behind this curtain lest the cthulhu-esque crazy monster gets you.

      Well, I don’t feel so bad for reading books instead, then. :D

  • Aspen says:

    I totally get not wanting to put the raw skin of your inner being on display. In years to come, you’ll be able to turn the last 8 months into the most honest, intimate, *fictionalized* writing you’ve ever produced. It ain’t gonna be this year, though, or next.

    I have occasionally read a book and thought, “Wow, working through some issues, aren’t you?” But carefully done, with with the help of a good editor, it can make your characters more real, their motivations more understandable, and make your themes stronger.

    And all this sounds like, “Hey, look, you’ve had yet another learning experience!” which unfortunately it is.

    • Ashes says:

      Yeah. At some point, I figure that I’ll end up with a well of odd character motivation and situational stuff It just feels like it bleeds too much into unrelated plot lines at the moment.

      Stupid learning experiences. :)

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