Despite the little voice inside me that is saying, “Don’t do it, Nick!” I am compelled to talk about the issue of feedback, and yes, I realize a lot of this is going to sound like sour grapes, but I feel there is a lot of ignorance that needs to be dispelled.
It’s silly for me to complain really, considering we are bombarded on Facebook, Twitter, and in our e-mails for donations to the Democratic or Republican elections, to save African elephants from poachers or whales from Japanese fishermen, or to help the homeless in America, the list is endless. Quite frankly, I think modern day America, and the rest of the industrialized world, is emotionally saturated. There are just so many things we are told to care about that we end up caring about nothing. In addition, you can’t visit a single web page without ads hitting your eyeballs from every possible direction, nor can you hope to escape the attention seekers of the world, like zombies coming after your wallet and your brain, from TV, radio, telephone and snail mail. As I see it, this is a serious problem, something I call information pollution. It’s bad enough to make me want to hit my bicycle with nothing but me and 35 miles of Pinellas Trail, or get entirely naked to wander like prehistoric man through the woods (only problem is where to put my car keys). So believe you me when I say, I completely understand why you’d rather not respond to something I’ve written. In fact, I am quite baffled whenever I do get responses, some of which come from around the globe. But for my close friends and family, or for anyone who knows someone personally with the writer’s disease, you cannot begin to imagine how important your input is. Really, you don’t. If you’re a writer, you needn’t read any further, but if you aren’t, think back to any important endeavor you’ve ever undertaken. Think of all the dinners you may have cooked for your wife or husband. Think of the handmade presents you gave to a friend or lover. Think of the crappy crayon drawing you gave to your mom when you were six that she hung on the refrigerator door. Now think of the anxiety you felt about whether they would like what you did, and multiply that feeling by a million—that is how most writers feel, even published ones, according to The Writer’s Book of Hope by Ralph Keyes. There is not a doubt in my mind that J.K Rowling is suffering some anxiety right now over how people will feel about her latest book, The Casual Vacancy. What’s worse, if the writer in your life is serious about his or her craft, that feeling of anxiety never goes away. We wake up with it. We go to sleep with it. It’s there when we’re having lunch, driving to work, or making love. It’s a perpetual problem and it makes me often hate this disease. This is no joke folks. Just look up writers and suicide on Google and see how many matches you get.
The thing is, there is a great deal of misconception about writers and feedback. There is this false perception that we’re just a bunch of egomaniacs, hungry for love and attention. If that were the case, I’d say screw us; there are certainly people more deserving of praise than writers. But that isn’t the case. When I get praise, like, “Hey, that was great!” I feel good for a while and I appreciate it, but that doesn’t really help anything. Great compared to what? And who are you, anyway, to judge me one way or the other? But feedback does get me excited, because it means I am making a connection; I am communicating, and that’s what writing is, a dialogue between a writer and a reader. My goal is to reach people, to express the inexpressible. I neither care for fame or riches. I only want a small audience of listeners. The connection I make with a reader is richer, deeper, more real and more meaningful, to me, than many of the friendships I’ve had and even many romantic relationships. When nobody is responding, I am forced to wonder, is anyone listening? Does anyone care? Am I alone? It’s a lot like calling out in the darkness hoping for a response. Being a writer is an intensely lonely process, because nobody can fathom the work involved, the tireless edits and revisions, the exhausting questions that wear away at my brain until I can feel the neurons fraying. Which brings me to my second point. Offer criticism. It’s far more useful than empty praise. And I don’t mean, “Hey, you suck!” I mean, offer direction, tell me how a story affected you or didn’t, how a character moved you or left you cold, and why. Sometimes, a single honest piece of advice can soothe the doubt from my mind for a lifetime. For instance, I ask myself, Is my writing easy to understand? Or is it too poetic? When one of my fans told me, “Your writing is very smooth,” (thank you, Noelle Lew) I knew I could move forward with greater confidence than before. Input like that is invaluable. Unimaginably so.
Sometimes I’ll meet someone months or years after sending them a story, and they’ll come to me and say, “Hey, I really liked that book,” and my response to them is, “WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T YOU TELL ME? CAN YOU NOT POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND HOW IMPORTANT THAT IS TO ME?” But in reality, I just nod slowly, offering a timid, “Oh, really? You read that? Ha ha ha . . . yeah, thanks.”
The point is this, I know you’re busy, and I know some of you don’t care about fiction, don’t in fact read anything but newspaper headlines and STOP signs; but if you have a friend or family member who writes, and you have been known to pick up the occasional bestseller church conspiracy/sexy vampire/S&M bondage novel, don’t underestimate how important your feedback is to them. Having a writer friend, brother, sister, mother, father, cousin etc. and not giving them feedback is like watching them standing in the rain from your bedroom window without ever offering them into your home. Essentially, you’re not a friend and you don’t care about them, OR, you have no clue what they’re going through, which is why I ultimately forgive and keep my friends, because I assume they just don’t know, which is why I felt I had to make this post. You know, sour grapes.