At the Hugo House Literary Series in April, novelist Andrew Sean Greer introduced the story he wrote for the prompt (“All is Fair in Love and War”): “I haven’t read this piece,” he said. “Not just aloud—but at all.”

Earlier, my friend Erin Fried and I were talking about how some people can offer up what they write as soon as they write it. For National Poetry Month, friends of hers wrote a poem a day and posted every single one online. Erin was exasperated. “How can they do that?” she asked, meaning: Why can’t she? For so many of us, it takes a while to feel a piece is good enough to show others. That’s normal. But it made me wonder how much of that is perfection of craft, and how much is fear about how it will reflect us: If the piece isn’t good enough, then neither are we. I agonize over every bit of writing before I put it out there—even this blog post. But what if, just for a while, I didn’t?

For one, it might be really fun. As Andrew Sean Greer read, he was as surprised and amused at elements of his story as the audience was. It was also revealing—Greer could only be himself, the act of writing exposed. Weird turns he took in his story and didn’t remember taking made for a kind of crash performance where anything could happen.

It struck me as rather brave. When I mentioned this to him after the show, he said he could to do it because he’d just turned in a novel he’d been working on for years. It felt so good to work on something that wasn’t the novel, he said—it was like going out and having wild sex again. “Not that I know what that’s like,” he added. “I’ve been married for 20 years now.”

I just completed my first novel, The Good Sister—it is at the printers’ as I write this—so I can understand a bit of what Greer is talking about. I do feel release as I begin embarking on a whole new project open to limitless possibility. However, I still find myself bound to shoulds—“marching orders,” as writers Ryan Boudinot and Aimee Bender call them. Some kind of boss in you says you should write about one thing, while your heart is aching to write about another. The boss’s voice is really loud; I end up succumbing too often.

This time, though, I’m putting up a really good fight. The writing is really fun, and I aim to keep it so. The agonizing can—and will—come later.

 

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