A few days ago I saw a Tweet from one of my favorite authors, Sabaa Tahir. She’s the best-selling author of the Ember in the Ashes book series for young adults, which are fast-paced, action-packed heart-throbs with scenes so violent and intense I have to emotionally prepare myself before starting one of her books.
She’s a good writer, and manages to do so many amazing and wonderful things in crafting her stories that have resulted in some truly wonderful success.
I would love to be her pupil someday, if she ever decides she wants to teach writing courses to young writers like myself.
But anyway, back to the tweet: the internet moves too fast for me to easily dig up a screenshot (something I know you’re supposed to to in a “good” blog post,) but it read something like, “None of my books would have ever been written were it not for my brother, who takes every panicked late-night phone call and helps me walk through each scene until I get it right,”
Obviously I’m not remembering it perfectly for I’m pretty sure what I typed above is too many characters to fit in a single tweet.
Still, I think you catch my drift – mine, and her’s.
It’s a sweet, touching thank-you to someone she loves: Tahir is surrounded by family who love and support her writing, are willing to let themselves be beta readers and workshoppers, and overall are huge fans of her characters and the world she’s created.
I follow her closely and she always jokes about how her mother begs to read early drafts of the books, wants to know which character dies ahead of new releases, etc.. Even her children and her husband make defenses to her books and her characters as they go about their day-to-day lives.
She has an amazing support group, and she is never one to dismiss how lucky she is or show her thanks. She’s cool like that.
However, when I read this tweet, I again realized just how alone in my writing journey I am.
Again, I know how lucky I am to have what I’ve got. I know many, many writers are laughed out of every conversation and shunned my family and friends for doing what they love.
I don’t have that problem. My parents always gave me room to write and create and now my life partner does the same AND foots most of the bills so I don’t have to worry about rent and the electric bill on top of building whole worlds and people from scratch.
However no one, not even my partner, will read my work without my having to ask – and even then, I have to ask several times.
And those are finished, polished drafts – they definitely wouldn’t be willing to listen to me ramble about a difficult plot line and help me smooth out the kinks.
I ruined this for myself when I was 12 or 13 and first trying to discover the story that is now tentatively entitled Daughter of the Queen. My mother, trying to be dutiful and helpful, attempted to make time where she and I could talk about the story I was writing so she could guide me through it.
But I was a kid – a cocky, annoying, overly-excitable kid with big ideas and no knowledge of world-building, character arch’s, or plot development to speak of.
The story as it existed then was a mess, and she had a hard time reading it and listening to me talk about it because a) it was terrible and b) it was fantasy and she doesn’t like to read fantasy.
So, she stopped. She suffered through a few pages of every draft, but that was about it.
I’ve realized I’ve probably scarred her for life.
Even now, thinking about asking her to read something of mine reminds me of how visibly miserable she was when she was the mother of a 12-year-old girl, and I think she has a lot of unpleasant flashbacks to those couple of “meetings” we tried to have, even after a decade+ has passed.
As I got older I just stopped talking about it and trying to get her or my dad to read anything I wrote – even though I was a better writer now and probably knew what I was doing more than I did when I was 12.
But still, they can’t do it.
I don’t think they ever will.
Their inability to read my creative work is something that’s been a point of tension between us for as long as I can remember.
It’s something they feel enormously, unendingly guilty about, and I try never to bring it up because all it does is make them feel bad and usually results in tears and some kind of argument.
So, my parents are a lost cause. But it’s not like my own brother is chomping at the bit for the next thing of mine to read, nor is my husband – both of whom read and enjoy the genre in which I write.
I have to ask. And ask. And ask.
Eventually my husband will review a short story here and there. Maybe. I sent one to my brother recently and I don’t think he ever read it.
My longer stuff? Forget about it.
For many creatives, including myself, I think it’s very difficult to find motivation when your central circle is not your fan-base. Yes, we write and create for ourselves, but something sort of magical happens when someone we love tells us “hurry up and finish so I can read the next draft/chapter/story, I just love what you’ve done so far and I’m hooked!”
There’s no one to count on to be our forever cheerleaders.
When writers’ despair sets in, there is no one who can genuinely lift us out of it.
And that just sucks.
Maybe it’s me.
Maybe I’m not good at writing or storycraft, maybe my characters are flat and stereotypical.
Maybe I’m just a shitty writer and the reason why no one in my family actually cares about anything I create is because I’m just a bad creator.
I have recovered some wonderful encouragement regarding the work I’ve made available online from readers and listeners of my podcast (another thing literally no one in my family listens to or even bothers to catch up on, and I KNOW they listen to other podcasts because it’s literally all they ever talk about when we’re together).
I feel the kindness of strangers is almost more genuine than kindness from home because those are people who do not have to be kind – I honesty have done something that they liked and they are reaching out to tell me they liked it because it resonated with them so much.
That’s a great feeling and I really love the support from the online writing community. That kind of affirmation is why we’re all addicted to our screens, after all.
So maybe it’s not me – or at least, it doesn’t have as much to do with me as I at first thought.
Or, maybe it is.
I hate my own stuff a lot of the time, so perhaps I do just suck and everyone (minus my horrible college professors) are too scared or nice to tell me.
It’s not a comforting thought. If I really DO suck, then how am I supposed to get better if I can’t even get someone who likes the kind of story I write to write a mediocre review?
I’ve also joined a Writer’s Critique Circle here in my area – the first meeting is on Saturday, November 9th, which means I’ll probably be bringing I something I’ve worked on for NaNo.
I’m really excited, despite feeling the need to mope. I haven’t done a workshop since my horrible undergrad years, and it looks like this a group of mostly women who share the same love of the craft as I do.
Of course it’s scary, knowing I’m about to let a bunch of strangers pick apart something I’ve spent the last 18 months thinking about. But I’m sick of being inside my own head, and if I don’t have anyone in my inner circle who can help me, then I have to travel outside of it to try and get the help and perspective I need.
But still, the hole is there and not as easy to ignore as it usually is.
I talked about it to my partner last night, and the wonderful man then turned around and tried to find a time in our up-coming weekend where we could talk about my book together.
It was sweet, but a part of me knows it probably won’t happen.
I won’t insist on it, he’ll forget, and we’ll end up doing the same thing as we do on most of our other weekends, which consist of him playing video games and me reading or napping on the couch next to him.
But then again, maybe it will.