Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why Positive Feedback Matters

In general, I'm a fan of brutal critiques. I don't need anybody pussy-footing around my ego. If I've written a shit story, I need to know it was a shit story.

The reverse of that, however, is that if I've written a good story, I need to know it was a good story.

This may come as a surprise. Afterall, if you write a brilliant story, you just know it, right? You realize your utter genius and thrust it into the mail and make tons of money and win shiny awards and sell the movie rights, right?

No, not really.

I rarely know if what I'm writing is any good. I secretly hope it is. But I rarely, if ever, know.

Sure, there have been some short stories I liked just as they were. I didn't ask for feedback because I knew I could sell them as-is. And I've sold stories I got feedback on of the "you'll never sell this as-is sort." I've also not sold stories that me and my critiquers thought were great.

That's how it goes.

But when I'm working on projects that take years, that I look at all the time, I have to have outside feedback. I need to have a handful of very different voices telling me how what I'm doing is coming across, because if I'm ridiculous, I need to know I'm ridiculous. If I'm spending years on something totally useless, I'd like somebody to tell me. I may end up disagreeing with them, but at least I'm prepared for that kind of feedback from the Big Bad World.

I like harsh, constructive, detailed critiques for the initial revision phase when I'm fixing everything that's wrong, but once I've gotten 6 or 8 or 12 months into revisions, revisions that sometimes take years, some of the best feedback to have around is the glowing shit. The "this was brilliant!" shit.

For me, this was an email I got from my buddy Julian who read the first draft of GW. He absolutely loved book, and gushed about it, and every time I felt horrible and defeated tonight, I thought about that email, and I pushed through it. Because, believe me, sitting here in Dayton, OH at midnight working on this last round of line edits, it's pretty much all I had. I've wanted to throw in the towel with this book at least half a dozen times tonight (not to mention how many times the last couple of months, particularly after some other critiques).

I keep thinking: "This book is shit! It's the worst! It's going to be horribly embarrassing! What if it IS published, and then people I know READ it, and they say, THIS IS THE WORST SHIT IN THE WORLD! And suddenly they avoid me at social functions and I have no friends and people are very polite in public but talking about my shitty book in private and OH DEAR GOD I'M GOING TO WRITE ANOTHER BOOK AND IT'S GOING TO SIT IN ANOTHER FUCKING DRAWER OH GAWD THAT'S EVEN WORSE."

These are the things that pass through my mind at midnight in Dayton, OH.

The rest of the time, I secretly believe I'm brilliant.

But man, you know, for those Long Dark Teatimes of the Soul, like tonight, line edit pass number three on a book I technically finished in September and wanted to start marketing in February, first-draft-praise-letters are fucking priceless.

I have finished my stack of line edits. I'm going to bed, rereading the whole fucking thing tomorrow, and starting work on my synopsis and query letters.


And Then There Were Some

Some stuff you don't often hear about being done by women.

Women Gladiators:



Journal of Combative Sport

Women Bullfighters:

La Diosa Rubia

A Few Fighters

Marie Barcelo


Today was the first time since I moved that I managed to finish the entirety of my morning weights routine. Depression, laziness, and an inadequate room set-up for working out were keeping me from bothering to do it properly. Some of it is also that I don't have a fixed time for getting up in the morning, which is a problem. I'm usually up by 9:30 am, but I'd like to be up at something more reasonable like 7 or 7:30.

A lot of the trick to being unemployed and living off the good graces of others is not to let yourself wallow - you'll end up regretting all that time you wasted once you've got a job again, so I've been making an effort to work out some kind of lay-off routine or schedule.

I've been making an effort to get in some cardio everyday, but I realized yesterday that instead of bike riding or working out on the elliptical, I was starting to get used to the idea of taking long walks instead. Sure, that's better than nothing, but it's not going to get me looking buff again. I've been feeling rather doughy. There's a boxing gym here in Dayton, but that's going to involve me having money, which will involve me being employed. So.

I have a lot of things that need to get done right now, but this week, the focus is getting GW line edits done and getting it in the mail by the end of the month. Seriously. I was supposed to have this out in February, and having a bunch of unfinished projects lying around is driving me crazy.

The good part about living in Dayton is that, you know, I haven't had to move back in with my parents yet. But I stress the "yet." The problem with Dayton is that there aren't a lot of jobs here, and you're lucky to get offered something for more than $8 an hour. As somebody who was used to making nearly $19 full time and $15 an hour as a temp, there's been some sticker shock when interviewing with temp agencies.

I can also get away with not having a car in Dayton. If I moved back home, we're talking insurance, car payment, and worst of all - gas. I can make it in Dayton on $950 a month. I'd need a lot more to make it in BG.

Right now, the plan is to stay here until I can get back on my feet, financially, or until I can get a good job offer elsewhere and afford to move out. As it is, I pretty much blew through the last of everything I had in getting here, and I have a long way to go to build things up again.

I'm nearly but not quite fucked.

And I stress the "not quite" part.

In the meantime, I'm spending my days drinking pots of coffee and getting on with Ian and Stephanie's dog. Ian's a materials scientist PhD student, so he's usually out of the house by noon at the latest, and Stephanie works as a medical receptionist, so she's out of here at godawful early hours, and I've got most of the day to myself. Most of which I spend reading and doing line edits and scraping paint off doors, as Ian and Steph have been renovating the house, and it gives me a sense of accomplishment to help out with the more mundane tasks involved in that.

As far as self-esteem goes, yeah, that's been a really fucking tough one. It's been difficult to build that back up, not to wallow in a lot of self-hatred. When you're used to being strong and capable and figuring things out and you suddenly fail, utterly, again, yeah, boy, that's pretty fucking hard. It's the way life is, sure, "Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight," but that doesn't make the falling down or getting up part much easier.

Some of the miserable self-esteem stuff comes from how bad things were back in Chicago. Removing myself from that situation has helped with some of that, but you know, selling a book or having a job or succeeding at something sure as hell would help, too. Being able to afford my meds would help.

You know, every little thing helps.

But I did do some traveling last week, and that was divine. It's nice to just get away from bullshit for awhile and get to a place where you feel hopeful about the future instead of terrified. OK, there's some terror, too, but mostly, hope, and there's nothing like navigating a foreign country to get some of your self esteem back. Just because you fail at things doesn't mean you can't do anything. It just means you failed. And you have to keep trying.

It's like writing a lot of bad books. Doesn't mean they'll all be bad. Just means these ones are bad. It doesn't mean you give up. It means you learn from the last one so you can make the next one even better.

Which also sounds a lot easier than it actually is....