Responsibility of the writer in their writing- a myriad of views stem from that statement from writers and readers alike. Responsibility to the reader, especially in terms of authenticity and honesty, responsibility in doing thorough research, and especially responsibility to write clearly, coherently, and cohesively are front and center in articles that are strewn across the internet.
What about the writer’s responsibility to themselves?
There is a firm camp that holds this truth to be self evident— write for yourself and others second. Easier said than done.
It’s responsibility to family that has been churning in my mind since beginning to write my historical fiction/fantasy novel primarily set in Belfast, Northern Ireland (the north of Ireland, some may prefer.) This is the city in which my late father grew up and where I still have many family members I am close to.
Throughout this experience one thought has been on my mind— how to authentically recreate the world of our grandparents so that my relatives aren’t offended by my lack of “living it,” yet leave room for my characters to have their own viewpoints and experiences. After all, I’m just some American child of their cousin/uncle who moved away ages ago and crosses the ocean every couple years to visit. That doesn’t mean they believe I can do the job justice. I can guarantee there are some that don’t.
Yes, I have chosen this city for part of the setting of my novel and the country itself because it is meaningful to me and my family history. However, my work is a piece of fiction, and I feel that I am dancing with the potential of monumental expectations I can never meet just because I set the novel in a city I care about. Writing something you intend on the world seeing is a burden in many ways. If my intention was for no one to read it, that would be different, I’d have less on the line.
Educated via the U.S. Public school system, I rarely heard much in my classrooms of Irish history beyond the Potato Famine and the resulting emigration of many Irish to this country. I learned more about it from listening to my family, from the oral narrations of bygone days passed down by our parents and grandparents. In comparison to my family there, I can recount a few stories. They have a plethora of anecdotes with full descriptive accounts down to the gestures and speech patterns of whomever they are speaking about. I envy them their deep connection to our generationally shared history.
Then there’s their canny use of language and turn of phrase— as a lover of language, it is a sweet thing to behold. To replicate it as an outsider, which in the end I still am no matter how close our DNA, would be near impossible. I know a few more idioms and local phrases than the average American, a direct result of spending time there off and on in my life. My knowledge is narrow and falls far below the stylistic par that the Irish have mastered and set such a high bar.
Sometimes I want to kick myself for taking on so much for my first novel. Why not a nice contemporary piece that doesn’t require such extensive research or have the weight of disappointing those who matter so much to me? I have to do it the hard way. Story of my life.
In the end, I have decided to write it as though no one will see it anyway— a definite possibility— and if it is published one day, I will have to step up and face harsh familial criticism. It will be painful, but this story inside me refuses to be put aside and doesn’t care about the potential hurdles I will have to jump. Or who I will disappoint.
Stephen King states that “Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affection.” This is a quote that I’m tempted to post on my desk as a daily reminder— This is exactly what needs to be done in order for me to move forward with my novel. Let go of the fear of disappointing my family overseas. Let go of my affection for them in order to remove the walls standing in my way. In the end, if I can accomplish those two feats, perhaps I will create something we can both live with.