The Universal and the Personal

Or, the pervasive lesson that nothing is unpublishable.

I am a selfish writer. When I start on a first draft I never consider my audience any further than the question: what do I, Megan, want to read right now? I have an enormous selection of books in my personal library and thousands upon thousands that I can borrow from work, but sometimes I really can’t find the one story I want to read because it hasn’t been written yet. See? Totally selfish. And then I start writing the thing I want to read (which will always be disappointing in some way, because I’ll know how its insides work*) and I will finish and immediately think that there is no one else on earth who could possibly want a story about a girl with a hand at the end of her tail. I wrote it for Megan.

But I like to share the things I do, so I will send stories out to markets even when I think they are too strange for anyone else, and I am surprised and thrilled when I get an email back asking for the publishing rights. That’s two! Two people who like this strange and personal thing that I’d been working at all alone. And then it’s published and much much later I’ll find a comment listing it as an enjoyable thing, enough for a stranger to share, or in the case of the girl with the hand on her tail, editor Mike Joyce of the beautiful online magazine Literary Orphans told me that many people submitting stories to his magazine named Ahuizotle Learns to Fish as inspiration for sending in their own works. That blew me away. I was nearly certain that of all the stories I’d written, Ahuizotle was the strangest, most private, and unrelatable to anyone aside from myself.

And I still think it might be, in a way. When one is alone in a dark office writing away the first draft at a blistering three cups of coffee per hour, it is easy to forget that everyone else alive on this world has an intensely private life as well. We are all the same in the way that we are all so very different. Our greatest commodity is our pure self: it is irreplicable by anyone else, but instantly recognizable, because everyone has it. Humans can spot sincerity nearly as well as we can spot faces, and it is beautiful.

The personal is universal. Now does anyone want to buy a story about a corpse full of spiders?

*I really do love knowing how the insides work, and that’s one of my favorite things about Kafka on the Shore: at a certain point in that book, he turns the tapestry around and you’re reading it from the back side, but even seeing the reverse weave is beautiful because it fits so perfectly together… I know how the insides of my stories work because I’ve set the gears in place (yes stories are both mechanical and woven, and every other craft, because they are only ever stories and speaking truthfully about them requires more metaphor than I’ve got cells) but I can never read them just to enjoy; every reading is editing, and I can’t turn that off. Oh, well. Everyone has to be a little bit broken in some way, I suppose that’s not the worst way to be defective.

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