My darling friend Mary (the first person ever to read Spiritkeeper) has been re-reading the book from the beginning: not in just-completed installments, this time, but a read-through from a manuscript that she’s had printed out at her local copy center.

This is the first time anyone has re-read the book, top to bottom, with the whole thing in hand; a reading with nothing but the substance of the words and the reader’s experience of them to propel the work’s forward movement. Mary’s feedback has been gratifying. Hell, better than that. Better than I’d hoped. Spiritkeeper seems to have the legs to hold up under more than one reading by a critical eye.

This is wonderful for me. And, in my responses to Mary’s reaction, instructive.

A recent post, Being Read, talked about the learnings that come of the writer’s experience of the reader. This is the evolution of those thoughts.

In the performing arts, the feedback, the response, is immediate (perhaps less so if you release a record, say, and wait for the sales reports to come out, but you get the idea.) In a performance, you put your work—the product of yourself—out before the public and you witness the reactions to it. Write, for the most part, and you sail that work out to who knows who. And you must wait for the reaction. That’s the way it works.

When trusted friends (the ones you can count on for their critical reactions as well as for their praise) are your first audience, the reaction is quicker to come. And those responses? They can be like heroin (or so I’m guessing, never having done the stuff): Their immediacy, their impact, makes you want more. Now.

Next comes an urge you do your best to resist–the bugging of those same, generous friends about what they’re reading. Resistance, to paraphrase the Borg, is often futile. You fight the tortuous need to pester them with questions. You don’t always come out the victor in that fight, either. How far have you gotten? What did you think? What passage did you like? Was it genuine? What rang true? What clunked? Have you re-read it?Would you like it if anyone besides me had written it?

Okay. Maybe the need isn’t quite that blatant. But it feels as if it were. And frankly, even in the unrealized thought of the need, you become a pain in the ass. You fill with desperation the silence between the words of feedback; with the barely-contained desire to flail your arms and say “Pay attention. Now. Right now.”

As I mentioned to Mary, as grateful as I am for this renewed (and enthusiastic) input, I find that it reveals Me to me…an angst-y hunger that is actually amplified in the absence having “real” writing to do. In many ways, the note-gathering stage of writing is a lot more nervous-making than the cossetting that comes with living in the alternate reality that is the writing space itself.

So, message to self: Give these poor people a break. Message to friends, despite myself: Did you read it? Again? What did you think?

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