Ego is like an open wound. Easily soothed, easily stung.
I spend so much time writing, editing, rewriting, considering ideas, and then also trying to self-criticise, self-edit, judge what I’ve done. I get lost in uncertainty. And then I go trawling for reassurance, validation – google-hunting. And sometimes I find a lovely review, and sometimes a really fucking bad one.
Erotica attracts the worst from our writing brethren and a few examples slipped under the radar of Alison Tyler's normally excellent editing. The worst was 'Madrid', by Nikki Magennis - an interminable erotic contrivance that was both pretentious and amateurish to boot.
I can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. Last night I read that and my heart pounded and it felt a bit like I’d just been attacked. Of course, the reviewer is attacking the work. But it’s hard for a writer/artist/whatever to separate the work from themself, from their life, because in some senses there is no line of separation. So I’m dropping the pretence of professional detachment for a moment, and just saying, yes, no matter who it’s from or why they’ve written it, harsh criticism does hurt.
I wouldn’t want it any other way. Of course, a certain amount of distance is necessary. But if one is not involved on more than a detached, professional level, the work gets a bit dry. I wrote this story the other day, for example. There’s a lot I like about it. But it’s almost more of a technical exercise than a story with a beating heart.
He calls the story pretentious. What does that really mean? I think it means dishonest. Grandiose, perhaps? Takes itself too seriously? As in – will obsessively dissect a three-and-a-half-line review in order to prove or disprove its great worth? Fair enough.
Maybe I’m just trying too hard here to disprove what the guy said. And maybe it does just fucking hurt, whichever way you cut it.
Then again, hurt is not always a bad thing. Usually when I feel like crying it means I’m approaching something worthwhile. Because what matters most of all is not good reviews. It’s making work that excites me. That is unutterably selfish, isn’t it?
Maybe work isn’t worthwhile if it doesn’t translate. If it doesn’t reach further. But how does one find a place between selfish and detached? Between honesty and artifice? Is it possible to be honest without being self absorbed? Could I learn a new way to write?
I don’t know.
Maybe today I’ll try.
The point of this post is not to plead for sympathy, although yes, my instant reaction was that kind of "say it isn't so" denial. The point of the post is to illustrate, and record, how writing works for me. It breaks things down, it allows them to fall apart. And then there’s a fabulous still point, and it opens up the possibility of somewhere new. It’s all that matters, really.