I’m a little heartsick. As in, I want to throw up. So it’s safe to say that I’m a tad oversensitive this week. Check back next week – I might be a little more solid. So it was a little disconcerting to read about myself on a couple of other weblogs this week. One of them said that I was a good writer but that my site was “depressing”. Another blogger said that I was a good writer but that I “wasn’t ready” for publication. I won’t identify either source because I have a personal rule about not critiquing other bloggers on my site. I’m not much of a critic and I don’t really think the world needs another one. Besides, I generally find that such behavior ends up biting me in the ass. So out of self-preservation and a fear of confrontation, I resist judging other bloggers publicly.
I am not mentioning this as a way to elicit your pity (or maybe I’m deluded and that is exactly what I am trying to do). I’m mentioning it because the comments left me feeling a little defeated, and as a result I’ve been thinking a lot about writing and criticism.
As for the charge of being “depressing”; I’d like to think that my subject matter may often be depressing, but that my writing isn’t. Here again I may be hopelessly deluded. This comment about my writing doesn’t interest me very much; it’s clearly a matter of individual taste, and there’s not much more to say than that.
As for being ready or not for publication, my immediate reaction was to defend myself with a disclaimer: I’ve always considered dogpoet to be a rough draft. There isn’t anything on here that I would send out for publication as is. Even the linked “stories” need more work. In fact, I cringe a little when I even think about them now, months after I wrote them.
I would also point out that a blog is a blog; it’s not the New Yorker. The internal push to post several days a week almost precludes the idea that the posts would be anything but rough drafts. And no writer I know gets his first drafts published. So the judgment seems misled; critiquing out of context. And if I can be snarky for just one second, I believe that there is a saying that would apply well to this critique: “Consider the source.”
You don’t get to make disclaimers, however, when you want to be considered for publication. Your writing will stand or fall on its own merits. Being judged is just part of the business. Someday, if I am ever lucky enough to be ready for publication, there will be negative reviews (if I’m even lucky enough to get reviewed). So I might as well get used to it. “Following your bliss” sounds like a path strewn with pastel-colored rose petals, but the reality is far less romantic. Once you declare your passion, you’re fair game. It’s far safer to never admit any aspirations than it is to call yourself a writer, for example. Some may argue that it’s far wiser. The stakes are raised; you are no longer just a guy with a website. You’re that guy who thinks he’s a writer.
Part of me actually agrees with this blogger. Maybe that’s why I haven’t yet sent anything out for publication. I think there are definite weaknesses in my writing: I think I lean towards sentimentality almost automatically, and it takes a little distance for me to weed that out. And when I’m tired and it’s late and I haven’t posted in awhile, sometimes that internal editor loses out over the easy, sentimental shit. There’s a sentence in my last post that I wish I had edited. I also don’t think I’ve mastered the art of the final paragraph; my ability to end a story or essay isn’t quite strong enough yet.
This is becoming an entirely self-absorbed post, but I want to get at the truth. That was always my intention, when I started this site: honesty. I thought I was being honest a few months ago, but now I see that there are several more layers of truth underneath. I want to avoid the easy answers, I want to dig past them.
There’s that part of me that longs for those early days, a year and a half ago, when nobody read my site, when I could post anything I damn well pleased. When I didn’t have to take into account other people’s feelings or privacy. Before my father found my site, for example.
But if I didn’t want anyone to read my writing, I would keep a personal diary, not an Internet site. And there is the crux. I have that need to communicate with others, to share my writing with others. And then there are my less honorable motivations, like selfishness and insecurity. Needing people to think I’m talented.
I would like to prove my homosexuality by saying that this issue of public criticism reminds me of not just one, but two scenes in Madonna’s Truth or Dare. The first is backstage following a concert, and she tells us that while 99% of the people may have loved her performance, she cares more about what the other 1% thought. The other scene is when Warren Beatty, her then-lover, gets fed up trying to have a private moment with her, away from the camera. He says, sarcastically, “Yes, well, what’s the point of living if it’s not on camera?”
Now, I last saw Truth or Dare when I was like 21, so it must say something about me that I have remembered those scenes, and that I identify with Madonna. (Perhaps every queen does, at some point). I care more about the 1%, and I wonder what the point is in writing off-camera. I’m not proud of this, but pride doesn’t take well to honesty. I think it speaks volumes about my insecurities that I have failed to acknowledge that both bloggers said I was a good writer.
I think it says even more that I have gone on and on about two minor critiques. I know people, whom I admire, that let such words roll like water off their back. And honestly, by the time I finish this paragraph I’ll be over it. Each critic is just one person, with one opinion. At the end of the day it’s just me, alone with my work, and what matters then is only how I feel about my writing, whether I’m proud or wincing in embarrassment over some sentimental turn of phrase. If I don’t like what I’ve written, it doesn’t matter where I get published. Publication doesn’t stop the little voices that come in the middle of the night. The voices that like to point out when you’re being a phony. What matters at those times is whether I’m satisfied with my own work. And that’s a whole other story.