WHEN FRIENDS ASK TO READ the manuscript they’ve been hearing me talk about for so long, I find myself filling with white-hot shame. It’s wonderful they ask, but I’m certain they’re just being polite.
“Are you sure?” I respond, implying they should seriously consider this for a few more weeks. But they always say yes.
It’s taken me four years to finish this book, so I suppose I’ve built a bit of anticipation. I mean finish as in drafted, edited, rewritten and polished. I’ve even started the arduous and perhaps old-fashioned task of finding a publisher.
Yet still, giving friends the manuscript makes me uncomfortable. It burdens our relationship with this beastly thing that they have to sit down and pay attention to and when they see me next, pretend at the very least not to completely hate. All the friends who’ve asked for it are readers though, so I suppose they would be sitting down and reading something. Yet giving a friend my manuscript still feels shameful, like asking a friend to help me move on her birthday.
In spite of the shame, I absolutely consider my book worth reading. It’s not the first book I’ve written, but the third. Compared to its predecessors, it has a distinctly publishable feel. This book’s fifth draft, weighing in at a fairly average 90,000 words, seems like Nobel Prize-quality material compared to the first draft, a behemoth 190,000 words. But no one else has read that first draft, or indeed, any of the other drafts. I suppose I want people unknown to me to read it out of genuine interest in the book. I don’t want those close to me to read it with a sense of obligation or tedium.
Recently, however, a friend made me aware that I’ve been considering this from a rather limited point of view.
I’ve fallen in with several students studying PhDs in science, a quirky change from my usual artsy friends. Professionally speaking, these science geniuses are completely different from me, and I’m beginning to understand the value in that. When it comes to my manuscript, for example, they’re actually thinking, “Wow, this person has accomplished something totally different from anything within my realm of experience.” Which is exactly what I’m thinking when they tell me about their laboratory experiments testing the effectiveness of aortic stiffness reduction devices.
Fran, a biomedical engineer, emphasized this when she told me how much she’d been enjoying my book. I’d given her a copy on standard-size printer paper. I suppose it looked like a 185-page essay.
“I like reading it, it’s great, but the best part is when I carry it around and people ask me what I’m reading,” Fran said. “They’re so impressed when I tell them I have a friend who’s a writer and I get to read a book before it’s been published.”
“Really?” I asked. I know so many unpublished writers I could construct a sizeable fort with their manuscripts. Of course I’d be happy, in the spirit of collegiality, to read all of them, but it’s just not possible.
Perhaps Fran’s interlocutors have misunderstood her and think I’m a famous writer. I’d brag too if Salman Rushdie asked me to read a draft of his next book.
She wasn’t finished. “And then they ask me what it’s about and I tell them the Armenian genocide, and they’re very impressed.” She practically beamed her enthusiasm for these exchanges. “It makes me feel cool. It’s like a hipster accessory I carry around.”
I would have kissed her for this, but I was too surprised. I’m grateful for my writerly friends, who share all my struggles and teach me so much, but at that moment, I would have traded them all for this one engineer.
ASHLEY KALAGIAN BLUNT recently completed her first non-fiction manuscript, The Pomegranate’s Daughter: Memoirs from the Shatters of Armenia. She has lived on four continents and has a scattershot freelance record in Canada, South Korea and Finland. Her short stories have won the Carol Shields Creative Writing Award and the Lucy H. Bertschinger Memorial Prize. Find her on Twitter: @AKalagianBlunt