Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sadism and the Writer

I've come to accept that I'm a sadist, but in the best way, if that's possible.

Recently I received two e-mails from readers. They were of the variety that make you think, "Yes, I can write! I'm not completely delusional!"

Writers can go from thinking one second that every word they write is magical to falling into despair the next moment, huddled in a fetal position and rocking back and forth, positive that they can't write a coherent word and that they're morons for thinking they can.

It's a bit extreme going between the two opposites, and you never get used to it. One would think that getting novels and articles published would assuage the fears. It doesn't. It just provides you with anxiety because now actual readers (people you don't even know!) are reading your work and making judgments on it. It's enough to send you into heart palpitations and panic attacks.

Ironically, getting positive feedback can be just as paralyzing. I've received some amazing responses about At the Journey's End, including a review from Jennie Hansen at Meridian Magazine that about blew my socks off. I had never before read a review from her that didn't find something negative to say. This was the first, and she finished with saying that the book gets her highest recommendation.

Whoa! Happy dance! Bronze the review!

And immediately following the panic rolls in: it was a fluke. I'll never, ever, be able to write well again or live up to that book. Why bother trying? Give me some chocolate as I curl up and start rocking back and forth.

Right now I have those two e-mails that made my day, and (so far) I haven't gone into the tailspin that can follow. Both messages had a common theme: At the Journey's End kept them reading late into the night. They both stayed up to finish it, one until 4:00 am and the other until 5:00 am.

So I'm single-handedly responsible for these two ladies being zombies the following day! How totally cool is that? As a writer, I can imagine few pieces of information that could excite me more. Apparently I am a sadist when it comes to perfect strangers reading my books.

That might be enough to consider me a bit twisted, but now a new element has entered the horizon that makes me wonder just what kind of person I really am.

I'm working on a project targeted at middle-grade girl readers (roughly ages 8-11). To test-run the piece, I've sent it to several girls I know that age, including two of my daughters, ages 9 and 7. The younger is slightly too young to read it herself, so I've been reading it to her.

After the most recent chapter, she told me that it feels like the story is really happening.

YES! SCORE!

And then she said something else that made me both thrilled and a tiny bit horrified at my own reaction:

"If feels real. That's why I cried."

YES! SCORE!

But wait a minute; since when is it a moment of pride and satisfaction to make your 7-year-old burst into tears?

I've said it before, and the more time passes, the more I'm convinced it's true: writers are weird bunch.

And quite possibly sadistic.

4 comments:

Josi said...

No kidding!! It would be nice to just land somewhere in the middle--feel good but know I'm not perfect, rather than the hot and cold. Big congrats on the review though, getting such a positive review from Jennie is definately happy-dance worthy

julie wright said...

It's okay Annette, it gives your daughter something to talk to her therapist about when she's older. If we can't provide therapy fodder to our children, what good are we? You can skip the fetal position and rocking part of writer life; I am here to tell you YOU ARE A GREAT Writer!

Luisa Perkins said...

You are not alone, sister; I can totally identify with this post. Whenever someone tells me that they cried while reading Shannon's Mirror, I get all excited and respond with something like, "Really? Which part made you cry: the vision in the hospital, or the end?" I LOVE making people cry!

Karlene said...

I think the wide and instantaneous fluctuation of emotions is maybe a prerequisite for being a good writer. You sort of have to experience the emotions of your characters so that you can write them. If our moods didn't swing so hard and fast, we wouldn't be able to do that. Really, when you think about it, we should pity the emotionally stable. They'll never make the NYC best seller list. :)

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