For a long time I was the only person who read what I wrote. I was in my late thirties when I shared one of my poems with a friend, in my 50s when I bestirred myself and enrolled in a Creative Writing degree and was obliged to share my work with fourteen classmates. Despite writing since I was eighteen, earning a PhD and writing dozens of short stories and scores of poems, I have only entered my work in a few undergraduate competitions. The few modest prizes I won felt like aberrations; it was as if someone was playing with me, opening the door a crack and then shutting it again.
And now, out of the blue, I am blogging and potentially sharing my writing with thousands of strangers. It feels imprudent; it feels outrageous. Why, after all this time, after hiding from readers and telling people I wasn’t really a writer, am I suddenly craving readers?
All writers experience doubt but I turned my doubts into proof; I converted my suspicions into evidence; I wasn’t writing, just dabbling. If you are a writer you will probably understand that feeling, but I took my reluctance to publish to an extreme level.
I wrote in my first post that I did not want my research into therapeutic writing to languish but there is a deeper reason for starting a blog; I finally want my writing read. I want readers. One would satisfy me, two would be better, and if there were more …?
I recently attempted to describe this feeling to my partner. ‘My decision to start a blog is one of the most significant I have ever made,’ I said. But is that true? What about the life changing decision to return to university at 52; to leave my marriage; and, years later, buy a house with my current partner? Surely blogging isn’t as important as these decisions?
I’ve read what other writers say about publishing: it’s like walking naked into a room full of strangers (if you have seen Birdman you’ll understand the feeling); it’s bearing your soul; it’s pure hell. But I have written and submitted a PhD, which means I’ve been through the butt naked and soul baring fires of hell experience and survived. Why does starting a blog feel so different?
I suspect it’s because I am kicking a long-term habit. I am conquering an addiction; I am so used to keeping my work to myself, to writing for myself, to holding on to my art, I don’t know how to do anything else. Like all addicts I have been selfish, stingy and disagreeable. I haven’t allowed myself to risk criticism, and I’ve missed innumerable chances to learn and to share insights that might be valuable to others.
In The Courage to Create, Rollo May wrote,
If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also, you will have betrayed your community in failing to make your contribution.
In other words, potential reader, dear reader, I have let you down.
Why am I sharing this? It is because I want to explore what it feels like to finally send my writing out into the world, I want to reflect on that statement, to mull over what it means to commit myself to my reader(s). I want to explain reflective writing by demonstrating it, by examining my fears, my assumptions and my prejudices about the experience of starting a blog.
To use an Australian metaphor, I feel like a wallaby caught in the headlights. I am mesmerised by those beams, frozen but desperate to flee, blinded and with no idea whether those behind the light are friend or foe. If foe, there is a gun pointing at my head and I’ll be dead before I hear the gun shot. If friend, I have to trust they will dim the lights so I can see and approach them. It’s a terrifying image (and, sadly, one played out nightly in outback Australia) but it is the kind of metaphor reflective writing, a painstaking contemplation of experience, is meant to conjure. Whether or not my wallaby-in-the-headlights image pays off depends, on one hand, on the readers standing behind the headlights. On the other hand, it symbolises, for me, what sharing my writing feels like. It is an image of the vulnerability all writers, all artists, must learn to live with.
When we reflect on an experience we are curious and critical about what happened, and what we did. We analyse our behaviour, examine our assumptions, think about how to incorporate what we have learned, and what we might do differently as a result. Research indicates that reflecting on, and articulating our insights about, what we have learned leads to deeper awareness and enhances the learning experience. Reflection also makes us responsible for our learning. Articulating my fears by using an image of the wallaby has eased my discomfort, while evoking, for my reader, what I experience when my finger hovers over the ‘publish’ button.
Having to learn a new skill is not easy and writing a blog is a completely different skill to writing a private journal, undergrad essay or a PhD. Fortunately, I love exploring new ideas and discovering different ways to perceive the world. Starting a blog satisfies my need for knowledge. I have learned more than I imagined I would. A reader, therefore, is not strictly required although it would be awfully nice to know the headlights I stand in are not a sign of my imminent demise as a writer, but will help light my path.