My annual client conference held by my agent is coming up soon and it's made me think about something that happened while I was there last year.
It was my first time attending, having only been picked up officially that August, so I was a bit out of my depth. I was in a strange city full of complete strangers. I had absolutely no idea where I was going or who I was going with. If you know me at all then, you know that these are things that usually send me into a tailspin… but I maintained.
I was very proud.
While we were waiting for the train to take us into the city for dinner, I listened to people talk—“Hi, I’m blah, blah. Blah, blah has been my agent for 2 years.”
“Oh, I know you. My name is blah, blah. I’m with blah, blah.”
“So, what's your name and who are you with?”
It took me a few seconds before I realized someone was talking to me.
“Ah… My name is Maegan Beaumont and I’ve been with Chip for a few months.”
I sounded like I was introducing myself at an plumbers' convention, but I managed to get the words out without any nervous stuttering. Suddenly, the young woman standing in front of me whirled around and after a few seconds of scrutiny, said, “You’re Maegan Beaumont?”
Oh. God. What did I do? The juvenile delinquent in me was screaming—No. No you are not. Deny, deny, DENY!!
She smiled. “I joined the agency the same week Chip received your manuscript. It was the first thing he gave me to read. I couldn’t get past the first five pages. I still think about it,” she said. “I’m pretty sure it scarred me for life.”
I didn’t know what to say. What did that mean? Was it really that bad? Before I could say anything, she saved me from imploding.
“Oh, no. It was really, really good… but it was too intense for me,” she said. “Most writers have this fade to black moment where they choose to leave the rest of a graphic scene to the reader’s imagination. I kept reading your work, waiting for the fade to black… but it kept going. I kept reading, waiting for it. Fade to black… I kept thinking, when is it going to fade to black? Fade to black. Dear God—FADE TO BLACK!!” She mimed flipping through pages, her eyes as wide dinner plates.
She stopped and smiled at me. “I took it back to Chip and said, “It’s really, really good and really, really disturbing. Here you go—you should read it. And now you’re here.”
I had no idea what to say—again. I felt like an apology was in order but I swore to myself a long time ago that I’d never apologize for anything that I’d written. Maybe I should offer to pay for her therapy…
Her name was Erin and she turned out to be the one person I really connected with in Chicago. We split a pizza and she admitted that I was nothing like what she expected. I took it as a compliment. We really didn’t talk about my work again (although, she did ask me if my husband was afraid to fall asleep around me...) but her reaction has stuck with me. nearly a year later and I’m still thinking about it.
Fade to Black.
I’ve tried writing that way but it felt… almost like a lie. What I’d "put on paper" was not what I really wanted to say—the problem was, what I really wanted to say was pretty freakin’ disturbing. I was worried what my family would think. I was worried how, if it was ever read by the general public, I’d be regarded (remember, nice girls don’t write about torture…). Would the parents of my children's' friends think I’m a depraved lunatic and keep their kids away from mine?
I was afraid of offending someone. I was afraid of disappointing everyone. I was afraid of what people would think.
I was afraid.
But you can’t write with fear—not if you want write with honesty and passion and all the things that make a book worth reading. Good writing isn’t always pretty or pleasant. It isn’t about what people want to hear. It’s about what you have to say. As soon as I realized and accepted that, I was able to let go of all that worry and doubt and just write. Instead of fading to black, I kept the lights on. I threw open the doors and windows and wrote.
And what I wrote scared me. Not the actual content… okay, maybe a little... but what really scared me was that the words came from me so easily. That I was able to go there without any real effort at all. As I sat back and read what I had written, I felt the strong and sudden urge to delete it off the page before anyone else saw it. I didn’t. I considered cutting it from the book. I didn’t do that either. I’ve come to recognize that feeling this way is a sign that I’ve written something that will affect people. And if we’re not affecting people with our words, then what’s the point?
Truth is, there’ll always be people who will be offended. There will be some who are disappointed or disturbed by the things I write. Who will see me differently. Who will build pre-conceived notions about what I’m really like. And as much as I wish it weren’t so, I can’t let any of that dictate what I write. I’ll go crazy if I do…
So write what you want. Say what you need to say, in the most honest way possible. Don't let fear or doubt decide what you put on paper. You deserve better than that, and so does your reader.
Fade to black. Or not...
It's totally up to you.