Something happened on the way to my daughter’s school the other day that made me think about the way we write.
A quick flashback for context: The night before, we were sitting at the dinner table when, out of the blue, Annalie asked if we can bring in a cookie cake to class the next morning to celebrate her 8th birthday. It was after 7 p.m., mind you. I’ll spare you the details, but in the end, after a discussion about sufficient lead times, we were able to secure miniature chocolate and vanilla cupcakes from the grocery store – not an ideal choice for my daughter, who swore that everyone in her class was EXPECTING a cookie cake because that’s what they said they WANTED. (I’ll also spare you the details about our subsequent discussion on child refugees in Syria…)
So we’re walking up to the class line the next morning when a boy spots her carrying her plastic bag of treats. “What did you bring?” he asks excitedly. “Cupcakes,” my daughter answers. The boy throws his hands in the air and looks up at the sky, a gesture I take to be pure glee. Annalie, on the other hand, reads it an entirely different way – that the boy is highly disappointed – and is mortified.
“See?” she says, whipping around, her forehead wrinkled. “I told you they wouldn’t like these.”
It’s not the time or place for yet another discussion, so I simply give her a kiss, tell her to have a good day, and turn toward the car before she can see my tears. I feel parental guilt on one hand for letting down my daughter and frustration on the other that she feels such pressure to please others.
I’m not sure this is a direct analogy, but isn’t this the way it is with our writing? Even when we know we have a good story to share, we feel like we’re not good enough. Sometimes we find ourselves revising our words so much to please readers that we can’t even recreate the original draft.
Why do we put readers who don’t even exist yet before ourselves, the people charged through passion and purpose to put out the message we feel compelled to share?
I’ll be meditating on this for a while, and would love to hear your thoughts.