Thursday, March 27, 2008

Naked, but Still Writing

We all have our personal equivalent of the “naked dream” where your vulnerable anatomy is revealed to an auditorium of peers who publicly humiliate or unmask you in some way.

Lately I’ve been exploring the feelings that come up around bad reviews and negative criticism since publishing my two new books, Make a Scene, and Write Free. Fortunately for the sake of blog post material, I received another crappy review, this one asking the very question that pulls at the seams of my tightly sewn writer’s persona, rendering me naked to the jeering crowd.

Why, asked the gentleman, should he have expected a book on writing to offer him anything useful when the author had not published a novel to speak of? (I paraphrase)

Was I, the gentleman pointed out in his cocksure manner, another example of the old axiom, “those who can’t do, teach?” (my words).

I’m afraid to admit this one stung precisely because I have asked myself this same question, waiting to be revealed as a fake. What if all those novels I’ve written—the prerequisite “5 or 6 unpublished novels hiding in a drawer” are all I will ever have to show of a literary life? What if all the hours I’ve spent building structures and implanting characters within them, spinning out tales and stories and yarns, never produce a saleable work of fiction?

Should I then turn off my analytical eye, blind the part of me that is, for some reason, pretty darn good at seeing and understanding the elements of the craft of fiction even as I struggle to make them work for me?

My answer is that I believe there is a difference between someone who teaches but does not practice their subject, and one who teaches and practices and still has a ways to go along the path, maybe a lifetime. I may not be "there" yet, but I'm still on my way.


Maryanne Stahl said...

you are WELL on your way down a multi-dimensional path, and don't let anyone cloud your vision! your book IS smart and helpful. publishing a novel--pah. writers seek publication, sure, but it's no definitive mark of anything. I know you know that. I'm here to remind you.

still, great topic!

Ms. Theologian said...

Yes, great topic!

I've always found that "Those who cannot do, teach, etc." axiom to be insulting on any number of levels. I mean, for one, it sort of suggests that all teachers suck. He can bite me.

Kim Green said...

i can say firsthand that publication -- or, more accurately, having written a "saleable" novel -- does not make one more qualified to help other writers hone their craft. in fact, i suspect it is one of the professions least likely to bestow the teacher's gift upon its practitioners; it almost does the opposite. i am beginning to think that doing your best work requires a kind of insularity and singlemindedness that is not conducive to the broad view, to a more complete awareness of what constitutes good writing. the deeper you sink into YOUR story, the more effectively you pen it, the less you are aware of the craft itself, of the devices that are getting you there (IMHO).

also, let's not forget for a second that the most important distinguishing factor between those who have published and many who are yet to has almost nothing to do with writing quality itself: those who published always FINISHED. if you've ever finished writing a book, you are 99% of the way there.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Thanks you three...these are all very good points. It's true that writing a book is still an achievement. And I swear I really did write it to help, not to wave the "I published something" flag around :)

susanbono said...

I think it might be time to ask the gentleman how many times he has submitted work for publication, how many rejections and edits he's endured, how many classes and workshops he's survived, the number of books and articles on craft he's read, let alone written and published. You are already a seasoned warrior with the battle scars (and trophies) to prove it! Never forget who you are!