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Book finished. Now the really hard part begins: making mental space for the words of those First Readers whose reactions are your first clues whether you’ve succeeded in your creative mission or have just succeeded in proving yourself barking mad.
Writers wait as for reactions patches of parched ground wait for rain. This is neediness exposed to the horizons of us. Inner landscape focused skyward where the readers are, waiting for any drop. Any drop. We tell ourselves that we are as steady and accepting as a flatland, ready to accept whatever falls to us. We’re lying.
We want the torrent of response. The Noah-flood that will wash the doubt away. It’s a lot to ask. The most secret secret of this desert country inside us is this: We glean the hints that come our way. We store positivities in our rain-barrel heads to review them later in private; tiny lifeboats to bear us up on imaginary oceans.
We hope to find the oasis of good opinion from our test readers. We hope for kindness—but not at the expense of truth. We hope that the moments of wonder will find other hearts besides our own. And okay, let’s be completely honest, we hope to irrigate our thirsty souls with free-flowing praise.
To those friends who have gotten through the first chapters in the past week, to writer friend Donna Baier Stein (her new book is Sympathetic People) who finished the read first, who has found the delicate, generous balance between frankness and praise, who knows from deep personal experience what that dance on arid land is like, many, many, many thanks. You are my drops of rain. The ones that, one at a time, fill glasses and buckets and solitary planets where waiting writers live.
Someone reads your work. Someone you know well. Or not.
You wait for a reaction. You wait with carefully composed expression that (you think) will not reveal the anticipatory wreck you really are inside. You try not to let the reader know how desperate and needy you are for an answer. Sometimes you wait for a very, very long time. Sometimes you wait forever.
That a person has asked to read your work is not a request, it is a bond sacred and serious (in your head, at least). You have allowed someone to hold your precious newborn; you trust that he/she will not be so cavalier as to drop it on its head, or abandon it in the slush pile of personal indifference.
Good luck with that.
No reaction is a terrible reaction. It is a golem handcuffed to your hopes. It is a thing made of polite demur…or indifference—and either is poison.
In the hierarchy of faint praise, silence is worst. Interesting is not much better. Fine and nice are enough to send a dedicated writer into trembling fits. Not my thing is cause to search out a bottle marked with skull and crossbones.
Like…now we’re getting closer. Love and adore are squirmy-gratifying. Worship the syntax you walk on…is psychic food. And my absolute favorite (this one real and as recent as yesterday, thank you, Glorious): !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Each word of praise lasts in the heart for a precise nanosecond before the eternal perfection-Jones kicks in and the elusive quest for craft takes over again. And that’s exactly as it should be.
The act of writing is an unending effort to surpass our own expectations. It is the tail we chase but never catch, the emotional hamster wheel that never stops turning. If we must teach ourselves to live on the spare food of faint praise, so be it. Pining for affirmation—but being acutely uncomfortable with it when it comes—is part of the wonder of what we do.
Now, what was that you were saying? It sounded nice….