- by Elaine Isaak
Throughout a writer’s career, she must suffer the doubts of numerous critics, both inside and out. Will her writing group understand the new chapter? Will this work be good enough to pick up an agent? Will his editor appreciate the revisions? Will readers be satisfied with the latest installment of the series? Will Kirkus reviews finally offer a (grudgingly) positive remark? Over and over again, the writer must prepare to face the scorn and lashes of professionals, fans, friends, and the dreaded “inner critic” who finds fault with every word. But beyond them all, lurking at the heart of so many of us, is the terrible question WWMT: What Would Mom Think?
Now the Mom in this question is not always literally your mother. Perhaps it’s your father’s approval you always craved, or that of a sixth-grade English teacher who either praised or punished you for your writing. The bottom line is this: even the most confident writers often have some particular reader before whose opinion they quail.
“Mom” can take many insidious forms. Mom might be such a constant presence that, in spite of your desire to write, you never quite pick up a pen. Or you fear to submit your work for publication because 1. she might see it. 2. she might hate it. 3. the editor on the other side of the desk might be just like her. 4. she would be disappointed in you. 5. she might embarrass you. In short, she hovers just out of reach any time the idea of writing surfaces. This ultimate critic may have stifled you early on with disparaging remarks about your creative efforts. Or she might have dealt an even deeper wound by being so gosh-darn proud of you that the idea that your words might hurt her causes an almost physical pain.
You love her, and you hate her, and she is influencing your work in ways you may not even have considered. I have a book I will not let my mother read. It is, IMO, my best work. It is also violent, dark, and disturbing. I don’t know that I want my mother to know I have thought of these things. I hate to picture the expression on her face when, having read the book, she sees me again for the first time and wonders if I am, in fact, a changeling and not at all the nice girl she put her soul into raising.
I did not let this fear prevent me from writing a story that I felt needed to be told, but I know writers who have. I did not let my fear prevent me from sending this book to my agent, or even from writing the sequels, which follow the path of the first into ever darker and more dangerous territory. Some day, I know, these books will be on the shelf and I can no longer keep my mother at bay. She loves me and wants to support my writing. She believes in me as a writer. She may even understand my position that you cannot appreciate light without having known darkness. But it will be hard for both of us when this part of my work is revealed.
WWMT? I don’t know, yet I fear that I do. All I can do is press on in spite of my fear and brace for the day that my mask is withdrawn–and trust that love will be there still.