Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Exposing Ourselves In Public - Nicola Morgan
Gah! What have I said, or what am I about to say, or what might someone think I said, or what did I really mean to say? What if I say something really, really stupid? What if I already have?
Please tell me I'm not the only one. See, every time I'm about to have something published I suffer a serious case of exposure anxiety. It manifests itself in my dreams. I'll have classic exposure dreams - things like needing to go to the toilet but finding that there's only a clear glass door between me and a load of strangers, or realising that I'm walking down the street without certain parts of my body being appropriately covered.
I sometimes have dreams where the News of the World has got hold of the really embarrassing things I did in the past and they're going to tell my parents. (I hasten to add that there were no embarrassing things, other than the time when ... but no, the News of the world will NEVER get that. Will it? Oh my God, what if ....?).
Thing is, having something published IS very exposing. Not in a way you can be arrested for, but in a way which is very anxious-making. We know (or if we don't, we soon find out) that lots of people won't like our book, even if lots of people do. Some readers will be vocal in their opinions, and even when the opinions are positive, many readers will see things in our books that we didn't consciously put there and which we didn't mean to be read into them. We will be misinterpreted and spoken about as though we're really really stupid. We see ourselves written about and talked about. And nowadays the reviews and comments are so permanent - which is good ... and bad. But anyway VERY exposing.
We do interviews in which journalists make weird and wrong assumptions or get facts wrong. I was seriously pissed off once when a journalist came to my house to interview me about Blame My Brain and asked me if she could speak to my older daughter. Now, my daughter hates being interviewed or photographed (after a previous horrible experience) and so I said she couldn't; then, in the article, the journalist referred to my "teenage daughter upstairs in bed". Actually, she was in her bedroom, writing an essay ... Yes, a small mistake, but one which had its effects.
I envy those authors who are confident enough and important enough to play the recluse card and keep their privacy, but even they are inevitably exposed as soon as their book is published. You don't get fewer reviews just because you hide. (Yes, I know we all in theory could be recluses, but we're not really allowed that option. Most of us have to do what we can to raise our profiles, not shrink them. Most of us have to do the equivalent of the model walking confidently along the catwalk, when inside we may feel very vulnerable and self-conscious.)
We lay ourselves on the line, allow ourselves to be hung out to dry, and we're supposed to maintain a calm and smiling exterior, never lashing out at public criticism.
Look what happened to Alice Hoffman and Alain de Botton when they lashed out. OK, they may have been unwise but in the old days it never would have become so public. It's all so immediate, so unforgiving and so hellishly permanent nowadays. (Maybe they have glass toilet door dreams, too?)
The need to be careful about what we say on blogs and websites and in interviews just adds to the exposure anxiety. The SoA has even suggested Professional Indemnity insurance for authors, to insure against the costs of being sued for defamation, for example. And I notice (because I've looked, carefully, paranoidally - is that a word?) that you have to pay extra for including your website, blog or other online presence.
Never was the power of words stronger and more frightening.
I feel a bad dream coming on. Someone, please, tell me I have got the appropriate body parts covered. And if I haven't, wake me up gently.