Wednesday, December 28, 2005

On Writing and Feedback

Be more personal, she says.

Okay. I can do that.


I just slogged through a friend's blogroll in the hopes of finding news of old college chums. That was a wasted twenty minutes.

When I websurf, there are some links that I have gone to so many times that it becomes habit. I'll think, "I've already looked at this," scroll down the list, and click the exact same link, out of habit. Sometimes I do this two or three times in a row.

There are other links I try very hard not to chase down. Some buttons require an act of will to avoid. It's better that way.


I'm writing again, a little. That's very exciting. To me.

I've read many times in many books that writing is a lonely business, and not for those who feed on feedback. I would chuckle, shake my head. It's true, though. Unlike blogging, "real" writing occurs in a silent, airless void, emotionally.

For one thing, I don't feel like I have the support of my loved ones. They have said they support me, of course. And I have no doubt of their love, of course. But I don't believe that they believe I will actually accomplish what I've set out to do.

My family is much too realistic to have faith in my writing abilities.

I showed my father a short story of mine once. This was in high school, back when my creative writing skills had yet to advance from "atrocious" to "mediocre" (a blessed transformation that occured sometime during college, between the late-written term papers and late-night makeout sessions). I handed my father the short story--very short, two pages--which he dutifully read, as I stood and watched.

At the end, he handed it back to me, brow furrowed. "That's kind of depressing, isn't it?" I shrugged. "I guess."

I went back to my room, a little ashamed. Of course it was depressing. It was a first-person, present-tense, sensory account of a first-century Christian martyr being led to the chopping block. The title itself said, "Martyr." Yes, "depressing" would be one way to describe it.

I don't think I've showed him anything I've written since.

I remember times in the last few years, when my dad has said, "Man, you need to get on that writing thing." But I think, in those times, that was really coming from more of a financial/vocational standpoint. He has had nothing but miserable jobs throughout his adult life, and his hope is that I find a job I'm happy with and can pay the bills doing. You could replace "writing" with "veterinary" or "accounting" and it would have meant the same. I don't think it's that he's convinced of my "talent," because he doesn't really read my stuff. He just supports me as his son. I'm very grateful for that.

I showed some poetry to my mother once. It had won "honorable mention" in a intramural contest at college and was published in a yearly collection. After reading it, she smiled, and said it was "nice."

Mom's not a reader. Not at all. She's a pragmatist. I guess expecting her to geek out about it is as fair as one of my computer-intensive friends showing me a new batch of code he'd just created. All I could say is, "nice," because it wouldn't mean as much to me as it would to them.

[I feel like I should be rewriting all this, showing my parents in a better light. They're incredible people, kind and caring and cool, and I would not trade them for anyone, anywhere, anytime. But it's like, they don't "get" this part of who I am. And I don't know how to explain it better than I am doing right now.]

My parents "believe in me" the way all well-enough-adjusted parents "believe" in their kids. They want the best for me, they believe that I believe, but they aren't convinced, I think. Not much more than the parent of a ten-year-old with a easel and brush who calls himself an "artist."

I'm pretty sure they would vehemently disagree, if they read this. Probably get upset that I characterized them so. (They're wonderful people, sweet and loving, I hope you believe me.) But over the years, their support of my creative work has always been abstracted. When I talked about wanting to write full-time in the future, they would nod their heads and say nothing. Then we'd talk about more practical things, like paying the bills.

I think their support has never shifted from "their son" to "their son's work." And that bugs me, because it makes it easier to second-guess myself.


That second-guessing occurs, despite the praise of my friends, too. I love you all dearly, and appreciate your kind words, but forgive me if I don't believe it fully. Even you faceless cyber-friends are not impartial. I think I'm waiting to receive some kind of praise from someone who doesn't especially like me. Maybe then, I'll believe it.


I don't know. The biggest struggle for me as a writer, outside of the time discipline, is believing that this is not a colossal waste of time. I'm a farmer who doesn't trust my own seed will bear fruit. This makes the hard months of planting and weeding and watering seem long and empty.

I read about some writers writing because they were "compelled" by some inner force to do so. I wouldn't describe myself as compelled. Frankly, it's easy for me to be distracted. There is always a TV show or movie or video game or book waiting to steal my free time and attention. Writing is work for me right now, work that I want to do, work that I'm trying to stay committed to doing. But work, nevertheless.

I don't write because I'm compelled by unseen creative forces. I write because I've committed to this dream I had years ago of being a writer. It was a dream I've had ever since my sixth grade teacher praised a silly page-long story I wrote about Russian spies, using our weekly vocabulary words. I've wanted to tell stories ever since. Despite various ideas and passing notions of what to do with my life, this love of story has remained.

To put it another way, I think for some writers, writing is a passionate love affair, burning hot and lively. For me, writing has become a longish marriage, of sorts. I excitedly fumbled around with it at the beginning, made mistakes, got distracted, and then, for a season, neglected it, not giving it the attention it deserved. Now, years later, I want to make it central to my life again, because of our history together, me and writing. And because I owe it my best effort. It's worth that much. And deep down, I still love it.

The last question, after all this time, is: Does it love me back?

No comments: