Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Finger

I have been facing a bad stall of about eight or nine months. I lost confidence horribly when multiple people expressed interest in Baptism for the Dead, then promptly forgot that I exist and that they'd pestered and even brow-beaten me into sending them my unfinished book to read. That combined with the divorce from hell has drained me of creativity and motivation. It feels just about impossible to keep writing at this point, but what choice do I have? I can't do anything else with my life. And not in that awful, cliched "I CAN'T NOT WRITE, I BLEEEEED IIIINNNNK" bullshitty way. I literally have no other skills, no money for schooling, and I cannot qualify for financial aid. Writing is my only viable long-term option for supporting myself for the rest of my life. That's it. It's all I've got. All my eggs are in this basket. Fortunately I do it well, I think, but it's hard to remember that when people pay about as much attention to my writing as they pay to their own respiratory systems.

Getting some good feedback and some eagerness from two very helpful readers last week helped a lot, but I'm still feeling a serious lack of motivation. God, I hate just floundering like this. I've been asking myself why this so often happens, and I think I've got it figured out.

A big part of the underlying problem for me is that so many people have said they wanted to read my book -- some friends even got miffed and pissy with me because I "wouldn't let them" read an unfinished and unpolished draft; then when I relented and sent it along to them, they never bothered to read it at all -- or if they did, they never bothered to comment on it at all. One person repeatedly made comments like "When will you finally let me read your book?" as if I was rudely holding out something that should have been his right to access at will because he is a casual friend. It's been about six weeks and he still hasn't bothered to even give it a glance.

Fuck that guy. Seriously. That kind of thing totally deflates my confidence. When somebody says they're going to read my work and then ignores it, it crushes me completely and saps away all my desire to write. I am totally fine with a person reading what I wrote and hating it. I am not of the opinion that I can or should write something that every person will love. But when I can't even write something that others will bother with -- when they'd rather read comic books or play video games or screw around on Facebook or get drunk than devote a half hour to reading a measly 10,000 words -- I figure I might as well just give up writing forever.

A reader putting in the time and deciding my prose just isn't for them will still motivate me. At least it interested them enough to READ IT. At least they acknowledged the existence of what I wrote, even if they thought it sucked. At least I wasn't just shouting into the void. A reader harassing me or kindly offering to read and then IGNORING IT absolutely kills me. It breaks my heart. It ruins me.

Critiques like the two I got last week definitely help. A lot. But I am still having a very hard time overcoming the tremendous slump I've been in. I am very slowly recovering from many months' worth of nonreading from many well-meaning friends. It's a kick in the face every time somebody asks and then ignores, and it only makes me more and more hesitant to allow anybody to read an unfinished piece. I'm so glad I've had some GOOD experiences with readers lately, or I'd still be deep, deep in the rut. Thanks to their feedback, I am working my way out a millimeter at a time. But a lot of the previous damage is well-ingrained. The message I get from non-readers is "I only said I wanted to read it because I felt like I had to say that. I don't actually have any interest in what you do, in what you care about, or in what you have to say. Also, the way you say it is totally uninteresting to me." I know I don't write inaccessibly, so it's not like my approach is the turn-off. It must be me specifically -- the things I care about, the things I want to tell the world.

I'd estimate that every time I give into a friend's request to read my work and then they ignore it, it causes around a month's worth of struggle to get myself well and truly back into writing and working hard again. So with about nine months of lack of motivation, you can imagine how many people have pulled this cruel little stunt on me over the past year.

Okay, so the obvious answer is to not let anybody read my works in progress, right?

I wish!

One thing I can say about myself is that I know who Libbie is very, very well. For better or worse, I am one of those writers who really does need the feedback to be sure she's heading in the right direction. Especially with this book, which needs to be accessible to readers who don't have any experience with Mormon culture. It's very easy to presume that a reader understands the things about the Mormon world that I take for granted because I was raised in it. I need readers who are strangers to my culture of origin to point out to me what they don't get, what needs clarification. I can't do without at least a few readers as I work on this book.

I'd like to say that I'll never accept an offer to read my book from anybody who's not also a writer, but one of the critiques I got back that was so helpful is from a friend who's not a writer. And I've had the same experience of being totally ignored, without even a note of apology for the delay, from other writers.

What can I do? I guess I have to just keep taking risks. One out of every ten requests to read a work in progress will be good for me; somehow I'll have to learn to deal with the rest that are just repeated and very callous kicks in the face.

So to those of you who have been thoughtful and caring enough to actually follow through on your offers to read, thanks, guys. It means more to me than I can say.

And to all of you who said you wanted to read my book -- or who acted all put-out because I initially wouldn't let you -- screw you. You're really rude, and I don't have any respect for you anymore.

Bite me.

I am compiling a list of "People who can be trusted to read" and "People who are all hot air and self-entitlement." Guess who'll be getting Christmas cards this year, and who won't.


  1. I stumbled across this blog via AW and I'm glad I did, because for the past couple of weeks I've been insensitive enough to put someone through this very process and you inspired me to put it right.

    Hang in there and I wish you the best of luck with BftD. If it's any consolation, you may have just saved someone else's sanity!

  2. Also, I notice you have Bend Sinister as one of your favourite Literary Novels but not Invitation to a Beheading. That's crazy!