Another night with NCN, my novel writing group, has come and gone and yet again I’ve come away with a lesson worth remembering. We started off the night like any other, with a handful of us late, and the rest of us chatting and bullshitting amicably until they arrived. There was a significance to the night yesterday.
It was to be Tim’s last night with us for awhile.
He’s taking graduate classes now, and one of them happens to overlap with NCN’s designated meeting time. Unfortunately school comes first, and once again schooling’s getting in the way of education, but what the fuck you gonna do about that? Nothing. He won’t be meeting with us next Monday, and perhaps I’m a little down about that.
Anyway it was me and Molly’s turn to read. My chapter was one the likes of which I’d never written before. I feel like I know my characters better and better with every passing chapter, and they’re less characters now than they are real people. I know them. I know what’s to admire about them, and what parts of their psyche deserve to be feared, and nowadays when I jump from one POV to the next it takes much less effort now a days.
This chapter I wrote was stronger. My cuts were better placed, my setting flourished, and my action felt physically dangerous. I also did two in chapter POV shifts, and a short flashback. My group seemed impressed, I was myself… and only my girl seemed to be unsure of whether it was any good or not (Which happens every time I share something with her)! All in all I was happy with the critique I got.
They all enjoyed the quality of my writing and their main concerns were with plotting. I can agree there. The lesson comes during the critique. This is definitely my best foot I put forward, writing-wise. I poured myself into the chapter, corny as it sounds I really did. And it was such a pivotal chapter for me and the course of my novel that I had high hopes for its performance, so when the group gets hung up on a few points my distress might have shown outwardly, and how could it not?
I’m a storyteller, and I want this baby to fly. If this scene doesn’t do exactly what I want it to do the rest won’t flow and I’m going to have to work damn hard to make them understand what’s happening moving forward. This use to happen to me in baseball, little league, specifically when pitching. And it comes down to this, when I give a fuck about something, when I really care, I want to be the best at it.
I never struggled pitching, no more than any other kid, but the concentration would be misinterpreted by onlookers. Sometimes if I wasn’t wearing a stupid smile on my face that spelt out in the most obvious terms, “This kid is happy” they’d assume I was having a bad time. That’s what it’s like in group sometimes.
Once in awhile I’ll bring a high-stakes chapter, and when I’m getting critique that’s telling me there’s still a lot of work to be done even though on my face you’re seeing concentration it doesn’t mean I’m having a bad time. It means I care and I’m listening and I’m not bringing you work that I phoned in, I actually give a damn about the story.
Why would I feign delight at my project falling short of my intentions? It makes no sense. If a team of scientists thought they were on the right track to curing cancer, but it turns out the latest drug not only kills the cancer cells but also shuts down vital organs and isn’t a viable option for actual cancer patients because of it… in that case the researchers might feel a complex set of emotions, satisfaction that they are on a path that is so damn close, and frustration that what once seemed so promising ends up missing the mark. Sometimes an inch feels like a mile you know?
So no, I’m not daunted, and I’m not upset with the group. The critique they offer is invaluable to me, as it always is, but I am frustrated, and I have never been able to hide that frustration. And that’s ok. Everybody is different, and I definitely have my issues but everyone needs to calm down, because it’s normal for people to get frustrated from time to time… and you know you gotta learn to let them live with it.
I know in this society we want our professionals to be Don-Draper-cool, but I think that’s unrealistic and unhealthy. It definitely is for me. If I can’t get frustrated around friends and colleagues, than who the hell can I let my guard down around. Nobody. So NCN, if you read this, you need to chill when you think I’m taking things personally, because I’m not, I’m not shutting off and disregarding your critique, I’m thinking about it and hoping to hell I can apply it when I sit down to write the next day.
PS- Tim, I’ll fucking miss you man.
PPS- Ian, when you get that new job, I’ll miss you too!