“Sharing is caring,” or so the adage goes. But to what extent is that true? How tightly should we as writers hold fast to our intellectual property as our own? The common sentiment among many of us is that our writings and musings represent a part of our identities. They are the results of our innermost musings, greatest fears and greatest struggles. Or, they could be the pathetic, half-hearted efforts of hopeless ennui.
Some people have a rare form of diligence that will not let them rest from a project until the finished product is their best work. I admit that I am not that person. Not everything I write is my best effort, and some of it I don’t have the slightest regard for. My collective output ranges in quality from my magnum opus, to a decent effort, to absolute rubbish. Granted, it is all my intellectual property, but not all of it contains the essence of my “soul.”
So, given the highly personal nature of some writing, what is to be considered fair game for critique and what should be considered off limits? Here is a potentially incendiary suggestion: Everything and nothing. We owe it to our writings to subject them to whatever can be thrown at them. Ideas will not be forged or proved in isolation. Writing cannot evolve if it is contained to your own sphere.
A brief historical example will serve to illustrate the value of intellectual sharing. During the time of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, educated people met in taverns and coffee shops to discuss cutting edge ideas. Networks of the intellectual elites developed across Europe, from Britain and France to Germany and the American colonies. Great minds from different countries developed relationships of correspondence. Letter-writing became the avenue by which the ideas of the day were communicated across borders. Men like Thomas Jefferson exchanged letters with the educated and well-connected philosophes of Britain and France. Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire and even Russia’s Empress Catherine the Great all maintained vast networks of intellectual pen pals with whom they shared ideas and debated current issues. Because this free exchange of information happened regardless of language or geographical location, it is sometimes the “Republic of Letters.”
In a small way, our little blogosphere is like a new Republic of Letters. We exchange information and ideas freely. We offer constructive critique or encouragement where it is necessary. A story can be a highly personal thing, truly. But this is openness is essential if iron is to sharpen iron. So let it out, and let them at it. If it really is part of you, you should care enough to improve upon it.