In which I use as many animated GIFs as possible in one post. Seriously guys, how did GIFs not get named Time magazine’s Person of the Year? They saw all those Olympic ones over at The Atlantic, right? The only good explanation here has to do with the petty politics of magazine publishing, and that’s not the topic at hand today. So on to my book, then.
In as much as blogs are virtual Rorschachs of their author’s emotions, there’s a reason this one’s been blank for months now. Back in the summer I gave the first half of my novel to five readers, all of whom had wonderful, enthusiastic things to say about it (including two professional editors, who made my month(s) with their feedback and helpful comments). But then despite my best instincts, because I felt like I hadn’t heard enough about what was wrong with the book, I sought out one more reader whom I thought would be more critical. (Yeah I know this is f’ed up and self-destructive, and I’ve since addressed it with the talkie therapy, but only after the damage was done.)
Anyway I heard back from this person in early fall (who am I kidding, like I don’t know the exact day, it was September 8th), and let’s just say their response was… less than favorable. Okay, so it pretty much crushed my spirit, and I completely shut down and went into hiding, and couldn’t write a word until just a few days ago. (In retrospect, reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road during this period probably didn’t help my mental state, but the German parts of my genes make me a bit of a masochist.)
I won’t go into a ton of detail about the feedback itself, because I know it was well-intentioned. But it also contained a few comments — I believe the exact phrase was “total rewrite situation” — that hit me square in the solar plexus. Listen, I will totally own the fact that I’m a sensitive person, particularly so with this book since it’s been my baby for almost three years now, but I do believe there are more and less helpful ways to give criticism. And the pull-no-punches kind, at least in my experience, is rarely the most effective (despite my aforementioned propensity for seeking out pain).
Anyway I proceeded into stages 2, 3 and 4 of Kübler-Ross’s well-known literary grief cycle, in which I briefly felt anger and embarrassment before heading into a prolonged depressed period. I started out all, “take your MFA crit bullshit and shove it up your poop chute,” then slipped into shame’s turgid undertow and felt totally mortified for sharing something that was so obviously terrible, before spiraling down into general feelings of worthlessness. Really fun times.
At some point, though, I reached Robert Frost’s bifurcated road, and the two choices before me — and their consequences — could not have been more stark. On the one hand I could pack it in. Give up on the book, declare it DOA, and try to live out my destiny as a career administrative assistant who dotes on her four cats. (Maybe someday I’ll tell you their names, if you ask nicely.) On the other, I would have to dig in even deeper, re-up my commitment, and resolve to finish this bitch within the next six months or before it kills me, whichever comes first.
It’s also probably worth noting that of all the responses I received, the only one I internalized was a complete outlier. And that the things this reader said made the draft fundamentally flawed were the exact same elements all the others had liked best. In other words, taste is subjective and there will always be people that don’t dig what you do. Or, as Vonnegut said, “[w]rite to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
No choice then, really. Not if I don’t want my soul to die — which I swear is not a play on Gogol’s book, but unfortunately a literal reference to my own dark days. (Another time maybe I’ll also tell you how the last time I tried to start a book I ended up in an inpatient mental health unit, but only after we’re at least half a bottle in.) So there you have it and here I am, battered, but unbroken. Along with supportive friends and family, I want to thank the amazing Hillary Rettig, whose work on overcoming perfectionism, procrastination, and writer’s block just may have saved my life. Seriously if you’re struggling to write but can’t take a course with this woman, at least buy her book. (You will thank me, it could save you a trip to said mental health unit, and I don’t know why she hasn’t asked me to write this up as an Amazon review. It’s amazing how tetchy people get when you want to use the words “suicidal ideation” in a book blurb. Jk Hillary, jk.)
For those of you still reading, thanks for indulging my Dear Diary moment, especially since it contained lots of distracting moving images. I’ll let Tyra close things out, since I believe she best sums up what I need to do next.
All GIFS via #whatshouldwecallpoets