Have five words ever been more sincerely stated or more completely unmeant?

On Writer Planet, those words are the slayers of friendships. The earth sown with salt. The clearcut in a virgin forest. Everybody asks for the Truth. Nobody really wants it.

In Bicycle Diaries, David Byrne mentions not really wanting to hear blunt criticism when he’s writing a song. Multiply that by several thousand tender, vulnerable words, and I know how he feels.

Hearing a writer friend invite your readerly eye and ask for an honest assessment of the work is a real run-for-your-life moment. Surrender, Dorothy: Even the most subtle and politic critique is going to be accepted like the Wicked Witch welcomed that bucketful of water. It’s like that for them. It’s like that for me.

For the first time in my life at writing, I have asked another person for that sanity-check. And therein lies the dilemma. Only whole-hearted enthusiasm is satisfying. Too much subtlety in the comments–or the lack of the commentary clues I have trained my ear to hear–chafes disappointingly at my spirit. Mandatory praise? No. Balance? Yes.

Hearing criticism or commentary is sometimes, I think, akin to group therapy–and not in a good way. Why would I want to open my psyche to analyses by people as screwed up as I am? In writing, one can use the excuse “Well that person isn’t a professional…that person likes different subjects than the ones I write about.” There’s a tiger-trap dug deep in those rationalizations; sharp spikes at the bottom of the pit. Listen to comments too much, and you’ll drive yourself (more) insane. Listen too little, and you’ll miss the grain hidden among the chaff.

I demand a lot of a reader, friend or stranger. My style asks an immersion into rhythms and combinations that are not always natural to the eye. I ask back only a fraction of what I put into the work. That’s why it’s probably best to limit the folks with whom one shares a work in progress; to share that work only with the people with whom you’d share your soul.

Writing. Soul. They are, after all, the same thing.

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