I read something most interesting on a facebook post by The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life and I'd like to share some of what I learned with you. Yesterday marked the anniversary of the publication of the first book of poems written by Emily Dickinson. The year was 1890. Her sister, Lavinia, found hundreds of Emily's poems after she had died. They were stitched together in satchels and stored in camphorwood chests.
Apparently, the young poet, who lived from 1830-1886, had kept her work hidden and asked that her poems be burned upon her death. She seldom left her home, spent much of her time writing poetry and left approximately 1800 poems. What a blessing for all of us that her family did not heed her wishes to have her work destroyed. Instead, they set about having the poems published. Before publication, it is said they were heavily edited.
Selected poems of Emily Dickinson can be read here.
What a tragedy it would have been if Ms. Dickinson's sister had heeded her wishes and burned all the poems that the poet had saved. Emily obviously placed some value on them or she'd have torn them to pieces right after writing them. What kept her from wanting to share her work with the world? Shyness? Self-doubt? Selfishness? Fear? Low self-esteem? We'll most likely never know the answer and it may have been a combination of several of these traits.
It makes me wonder how many people are what we might term "secret writers"--those who write only for themselves. The question for me is why? One of the reasons I write is to share my thoughts and stories with others in hopes that it might please, inspire, inform, or help those who read my work. I learned only this evening that an article I had written in an American Lutheran magazine had somehow reached the home of a couple in Rey, Guatemala. What they read in that article inspired them to give support to a mission school in their country.What if I'd written the article and never attempted to have it published? What if I'd added it to all the others in the large binders I keep and never shown it to anyone?
If you have work that you've never shown to anyone else, have never attempted to submit to an editor, give consideration to doing so. No, all of us will not attain the greatness of Emily Dickinson, but we have no idea to what heights we can climb unless we are willing to share our writing with others. If you find the thought of showing your work to others frightening, start with a trusted friend or family member. And whatever you do, don't destroy what you've written. We are sometimes poor judges of our own work. Others may see what we write in a completely different light. Instead of being a secret writer, share your work with others. Let your light shine!