Friday, July 26, 2013

On Wanting Your Mentors and Colleagues to Read and Like Your Work: And Being Totally Okay With It If They Don't

To clarify - this is one of those blogs I want to tread lightly on. It came up as a subject between myself and a non-writer about a completely different medium entirely, and it provoked a lot of thought, and because this blog (among other things) has always been about my journey as a writer: the ups, downs, learning curves, harsh realities and more, I wanted to blog about it. In fact, I've wanted to blog about it for a really long time.

I just have to...tread carefully.

AND, to clarify - this isn't one of those "tests" to see who is reading the blog, and to anyone who comes to this blog - no offense is meant, honestly. Just trying to share what I've experienced honestly and respectfully.

Anyway, the other day a friend and I were talking about their foray into their chosen field of art. One thing this person mentioned was how they noticed that someone else they'd known for a long time who also practiced their art had no comments at all on this person's work. The person in question didn't know if they should be offended by this, or if it was just what they called "an artist thing."

I thought for a moment and answered very honestly it was probably just an "artist thing," sharing my experience...because I've gone through that myself, really wanting my colleagues and mentors' approval of my work, but also realizing they probably hadn't read much or any of what I'd written and probably never would, and how that was totally okay.

To be clear: MANY of my colleagues and one or two mentors have read my work and have had really nice things to say, so I'm not lacking in support at all. HOWEVER, as I blogged about recently, publishing is an interesting, very PERSONAL business. You develop business relationships with editors and other writers, but you also become friends with them too, and it's not long before you ask yourself why they haven't read what you've had published, why they don't like your writing.

This is worse when we want to impress those we look up to. It's like wanting to impress an older sibling, and all we really want to hear from them is, "Nice job, bro!" But, even critical comments are okay. One of my mentors has consistently pushed me and challenged me on pieces that others have loved, and that's just as good as a compliment, maybe better, because it means they're invested in your improvement and want to see you get better.

But dead air?

That can be hard to deal with.

And it's especially hard to deal with when you realize these folks you look up to haven't read any of your writing and probably never will, especially a mentor who's given you lots of good advice about the business. There's the inevitable knee-jerk reaction (hopefully kept all inside) to think: "Geez, they haven't read anything I've written.  Why I should I listen to them?"

Or, there's this: I endured a  really awkward experience once when one of my students asked a visiting writer-friend: "Hey, Mr. Lucia wrote this novella thing. Have you read it? Didja like it?"

Cue the crickets, and a little good-willed stammering by the author as they worked out of that spot, citing the good reviews and all the good things they'd heard about my novella. I felt bad that student had put my friend on the spot, a little annoyed (because honestly, that student wasn't exactly one of my more astute and this was clearly a prank and not a show of support for me), but also...felt a sinking feeling when I realized that one of the writers I'd admired most hadn't read anything written by me, despite being given a copy of the novella by my publisher.

But that's completely okay, and I'm completely over that, because here's the thing - maybe there are some writers below me on "the ladder" who want me to read some of their work, too; or colleagues who'd like me to read their work. AND, many of my colleagues have produced some fine work that I've really loved. But what do I spend the bulk of my time reading?

The greats. The giants, in both literary and weird/strange/dark/horror fiction. And those whom I look up to - I know, just by my long conversations with them - are busy reading those things, too. They SHOULD be reading those things, and not work by someone like me. And also, as I said to my friend, there's simply style to consider. Many of my mentors write a considerably different style and have different ideas about fiction than I do. So rather than give me empty praise they don't really mean, they've chosen to be honest and give nothing...which is definitely better than empty praise in the long run.

There's nothing wrong with this whole experience. It's very natural, and part of the gig. But it's so, so important to never take anything personal and to grow past all these things, because once again, the publishing industry - especially the horror genre - is amazingly personal, and these waters must be navigated with great care, and an essential part of a writers' development, I think, is becoming more and more motivated by internal standards and less by what others think, or what we WANT others to think of us.

The photo in this blog is a section of my library populated by my friends' books. Some of them have read my work (others not in this picture have read my work) some haven't, some have said they're looking forward to the collection. And if they do buy it and like it, I'll be delighted. But they may not, may not ever read my work, because they're busy reading the work of the masters, maybe our styles are different, or - like as not - they're very busy with their own writing. So they may not ever read anything I write, ever.

And that's totally okay.