On the Vulnerability of the Artist

A few days ago, I read an article discussing how once a book is released into the world, it is no longer the author’s. It becomes subject to critics and readers, who make their own judgments and assumptions about the text. And while this is often remarkably exciting for the author, it is also often destructive and painful when that response is not all that we hope it will be.

With an upcoming book release looming in the back of my mind, this has been often in the forefront of my thoughts. Because writing is quite frequently one (or the only) thing I feel confident about in my life (don’t worry, this post will not turn into a therapy session discussing the ins and outs and all-arounds of that Pandora’s box), it’s a remarkably vulnerable and naked feeling to be preparing to send my work out into the world and hope people see in it the same beauty and pain and excitement that I do.

Letting other people read my writing always makes me feel a bit like this.

But such is the artist’s life, right? As badly as I want to share these worlds I have created with other people, because I want other people to love them as much as I do, I also know that in opening up myself and my self-created worlds, I open them to all readers and all comments: good, negative, indifferent, and even cruel. This is nothing new in the history of the world I’m facing, I’m well aware, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s terrifying to be that vulnerable– with complete strangers you may never meet as much as with your own family members.

Because as much as I want to share these amazing characters that I have gotten to know and love as I’ve been writing them, there’s also a part of me that wants so badly to protect them from any kind of negative reception (no one can please everybody, or so I’ve heard). And let’s be honest, I’m also quite interested in protecting myself from hurtful comments, especially when it seems increasingly easy to bash someone’s life work in a review from behind a computer screen without a second thought.

The other twist in Signs: Joaquin Phoenix is a writer who just read a scathing review of his latest novel.

But then, right on time, I read this quote from Madeleine L’Engle: “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.” To which I can only say:

The Rock needs no explanation.

Wise woman, that. It’s worth the risk to share and be vulnerable with another human being. It has to be, or else what’s the point of all this anyway?