Friday, October 1, 2010

The Problem With Sharing Our Work

Sumarkvöld við Reykjavík--1904--Porarinn B. Porlaksson I’ve thought a lot lately about how creative people have it rough sometimes.

We do get so much back from being creative—if we didn’t get a lot of joy from it, we wouldn’t do it.  And I think most of us get a lot out of our friendships with other creative people, too.

But there’s also a bad side.  And usually that comes with sharing our work with others.

My husband and I were at a play a couple of weekends ago at a neighborhood theater with an intimate feel to it.  It was so intimate that my husband and I felt practically like part of the cast in our front row seats.   When the play started, I saw one actor scan the audience, quickly taking it in before starting his lines.

If you think about it, actors have a lot in common with writers.  There’s an audition process for them that rivals writers’ querying of industry professionals. And, for stage performers, there’s that added stress of instant approval or rejection from a live audience—at least a writer’s audience is usually remote.  Musicians and visual artists are also in the same boat as far as the stress of putting their work out there for people to hear and see.

Creative people probably don’t have the best disposition for handling this kind of stress.  A lot of us are introverted and private…and passionate about what we do, to the point where rejection of our creative work feels personal.

There was a blog post the other day from a writing friend of mine, Marybeth Whalen who I met online, but had lunch with a few weeks ago when we found out we live just a few miles away from each other.

Her post made me wince because it’s really the worst-case scenario you’re going to have as an author.
Think about how tough we have to be—we’ve already faced our own fears and insecurities about writing. 

We’ve sacrificed our personal time.  We’ve learned about the industry through never-ending research.  We’ve had critique groups and first readers make suggestions and offer opinions on our writing.  We’ve had a hundred rejections from agents and publishers. 

Then we finally make it—get an agent, get a publisher.  Still, rough days continue with the occasional bad review. 

So far, though, it’s probably all been with a little bit of distance between you and the different little stabs of hurt or rejection.

With Marybeth, she actually was asked by a book club to make a conference call to discuss her book—and she ended up falling into a trap.  Maybe, actually, it was more like a firing squad.  The book club had apparently strongly disagreed with what they thought Marybeth’s opinions on divorce were, as represented by a character in her book. 

I felt terrible for Marybeth having to defend her fictional book in real-time, but also felt sorry for creative people in general.  I think, really, we all have to have nerves of absolute steel—and you hate to be that way because sensitivity is a pretty common trait of creative people—we’re observant folks who take it all in.  Not really the brash or hard types.

Marybeth ended her post, though, by saying that she took a lot of strength from an email she received from a reader who really got her book.

I hate to say it, but most days I think I’m tough as nails.  Or, maybe there’s just a difference between Writing Elizabeth (the daydreamy person who might absentmindedly walk off a cliff while plotting her book) and Promoting Elizabeth (who would like for you to like her book, but won’t be hurt if you don’t.)

Promoting Elizabeth isn’t going away unless I stop writing books, which isn’t my plan.  And, honestly, I really do think it helps to have a tough skin in conjunction with a writing career.  I hate having one, but it grew out of necessity over the years.  I think it means that we can put all of the bad stuff out of our mind and focus on the good things (like Marybeth did with her reader’s email)—and focus on being creative without worrying what the audience reaction will be.

I think back to the actor I saw in the theater.  His eyes took in the packed house, the air of audience anticipation and the audience’s impatience for the show to start.  He took a deep breath—and dove right into acting. 

And ended up with a standing ovation.