Balls Out, 100%

This week, my friend Kate Maruyama coached me through yet another writing life crisis. So permit me to spill the borcht.

Now that my book is close to publication, now that I have a galley copy in my hand, now that I can see this beautiful thing right in front of me, I’m horrified. Because: what if my book is actually no good?

I mean, I’ve worked years on this fucker, but it is a crazy book. At best, it is not for everyone. Even in my most narcissistic moments, I know that many people won’t want to read a book about a neurotic failed writer who is impotent and shame-filled. It definitely has the humor I carry with me in my videos, but the book involves a guy who likes to be spanked, he obsesses about his dead father… it’s a book written by Yuvi about a guy named Yuvi who writes a book about a guy named Yuvi. In summary: it is an odd one.

But now that I’ve been mistakenly networking, now that I’m growing this audience for my videos and blog posts, what if people purchase the book and are horrified by it? You might be interested in my video explaining how I write on my iPhone but not interested when I tell you about a dude who cuts his ass due to his shame.

Now that I’ve scarred you with that image, let’s get back to Kate. She is a fabulous friend and writer and editor and she co-runs the website Annotation Nation (where writers look at fiction in terms of craft). Her debut novel, Harrowgate, is also soon-to-be-published (date TBD). Well she wisely e-talked me through this horror I was going through. She told me a lot of things, but the thing that knocked me on my ass (in the good kind of way) was this:

The truth is, you wrote a balls out 100 percent Yuvi piece of work. It is completely original. Because of that originality, it is incredibly entertaining and engaging, human and self-deprecating, it’s a character with his pants down and while we squirm to read it because it is so personal, it is a good squirm, because at our heart, we are all a fucking disaster area and you did that so well. And it is your book. You honored it and wrote it and rewrote it and, like our children, you have to send it out into the world, warts and all.

Whether the book sucks or not, here it is, my fucking guts on the table. For me, you, and anyone else to see and slander.

But it all feels less scary when I remember that this book is so… ME. No one can steal that even if they viciously point out its flaws. (I can already imagine the title of the scathing review: A Brilliant Criticism of a Shitty Novel in the Works.) I can’t say that I’m now suddenly immune to criticism. But I will try to keep reminding myself that I wrote a balls out Yuvi piece of work no matter what mistakes lie in it. I will love (or at least not loathe) the book for what it is and I will keep on writing…

So thank you, Kate.

And what about you? How do you handle the terror of exposing yourself to the world? (I mean, even a single blog post leaves a person exposed.) And how do you deal with the subsequent criticism? Or even just the fear of criticism? What’s your damn coping strategy (and how can I steal from it)?

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  1. says

    You ask some hard questions. I’m not sure how I handle any of it – the terror of publishing, the terror of criticism, the terror of success…It probably helps that I hit publish regularly, but the terror is huge when it comes to my poetry. Forcing myself to use Tumblr helps me to counteract the fear. I haven’t received much criticism about the poems I’ve published on Tumblr, but I’m sure I could receive some wonderful criticism if I started to enter poetry contests again. I just haven’t had time to research contests or to work on a manuscript. I have other writing projects that require attention. I’ll have to think about my coping strategies. I think I picked up some during grad school days, and they seem to keep me in good stead, but maybe I’ve simply become accustomed to living with a knot in my stomach. I also can be my own worst critic, so there’s that. Anyway, I shall ponder and possibly write a post. I don’t think I can respond adequately without taking some additional time to think.
    I also would consider it an honor to read your book. Maybe it would be an odd book, but I like odd. The frame within a frame within a frame already intrigues me.

    • says

       @Erin F. Wow. I see that I *did* ask a lot of big questions on my post!… (You can see I’m new to this bloggy thingy…)
      I think you hit on some important points, though. For one, bloggers have at least one key advantage in that they are constantly putting themselves out there. A blogger is constantly getting feedback — both positive and negative — and they learn quickly about the relationship between reader and writer.
      Another interesting point you made is that the terror can be different for the different forms of writing. It seems like you are more sensitive when it comes to your poetry than to your blog entries. True? Is it because it exposes you more in some way? 
      Also, I think it is particularly scary and intense the first time a person releases a certain thing out in the world. This was true for my first video. My first short story. My first blog post. And now my first book. Is that true for you? Then again, I think I have a skill at being constantly terrified no matter how many times I’ve done it before… :)
      (I’ve enjoyed your Alice in Wonderland-themed blog posts on your site this week, BTW…)

      • says

         @yuvizalkow No, I’m just skilled at making simple questions complicated. :)
        I think blogging has helped with the fear factor some ways, but I am much more sensitive about my poetry. My poetry mentor used to tell me I lacked confidence. I don’t know if that’s the result of starting a poetry career later than some (I didn’t start writing poetry until my last semester of undergrad.) or what. I’ve never been able to pinpoint the exact reason. Maybe because poetry strips me in a way that a blog post – at least not my usual ones – doesn’t. With my blog, I can hide behind the professional guise. I can’t do that with a poem, even if I tell you that the “I” in my poems isn’t necessarily me.
        Doing something for the first time is terrifying. I usually want to throw up. How’s that for a visual? Video still scares me, although not as much as it once did. Most of the time, I just have to jump into the deep end of the pool and hope that I’m able to flail enough to keep myself afloat.
        Thank you. You’re the second person today who has said they’ve liked this week’s posts. Maybe I should do character sketches more often…

      • says

         @Erin F. Wow. You reveal lots of great stuff in that last comment. I definitely think that immersing oneself into something helps… funny that you mentioned that about video because you seem pretty comfortable behind the camera — or perhaps it is just that your nervousness comes off charming. I’m honestly terrified about my upcoming public readings but I often do okay at readings when I explain to the audience how I’m practically urinating in my pants out of fear. Urine confessions never get old… OK. Now I’m off topic…
        It makes sense to me that there is nowhere to hide when writing poetry. It seems like a more naked sort of writing.
        I like the idea of character sketches for your blog posts. Or else weekly themes where the posts relate to a book or a film or a fable or something like that…

      • says

         @yuvizalkow I must be charming then. Actually, the trick – for me anyway – is to try to say what I have to say and to not let the thoughts that are already crowding into my mind (You just butchered that line, Erin, et cetera, et cetera.) to take hold. It could be that I enjoy talking about those things, too. I get excited about them. I’m always joking that people are going to wonder what happened to quiet Erin. Some people who knew me even a year ago wonder about that.
        I haven’t read at a poetry reading in years. The last time I did, I’m fairly sure my voice wobbled (warbled?). I’m also certain that I was blushing. I typically do when put on the spot. Perhaps that’s part of the charm. I can’t hide how uncomfortable I am, and people either accept it or don’t.
        Does your book fall into a certain genre? I apparently need to read more about your soon-to-be published book. At least with the readings, you should be able to expect that the attendees will be interested people, right? Maybe that will help with the terror, or you can pretend that you’re in one of Hitchcock’s strange stories – not the ones with terrible endings; the ones that simply were bizarre – and make up your own ending.
        Hmm. I’ll have to get back to reading more often in order to work with themes. I am playing with some different ideas for the blog. I think I’ve been writing primarily for myself, and I need to start considering how to attract different readers (a.k.a. clients). Things were much simpler when I could write poems and not worry about building a business. I guess we really are in the same or similar boats. 

      • MSchechter says

         @yuvizalkow sadly, inevitably, the urine does… oh, wait… what were we talking about…

    • says

       @Patricia L Morris Yes. I hear many authors that have advised me that way. I’m afraid I won’t be able to stop myself… At least at first…

  2. MSchechter says

    Dear nut job, I have some news you might be unaware of. While doing some research on the internet last night, it turns out there are other places where I can go and learn how to write on an iPhone (I know! I had no idea either). The reason I come here is two fold… sure, one of them is to learn how to write on an iPhone, but the other is the wrapping that it is put in. 
    It certainly sounds like things go one step further in the book, but I’ve already seen you pants less, in the shower and I’ve watched a t-rex fall over drunk (in stop animation, no less). I think we know what to expect and I think we want to expect it. Will some be turned off, probably, but chances are you’re already turning off people every day. Thankfully, that same willingness to scare some off will draw the right people in. You know your book isn’t for everyone, but it sure as hell is written for someone. That someone likely has a LOT of issues, but thankfully there are tons of people with LOTS of issues (I’m one of them, so can I have my copy already? :) ).
    As for how I handle the terror, easy. I expect that it’s going to suck at the onset and then put in the requisite work to make it not (all the while still knowing it will suck). This way when people tell me it sucks, I already know. When they tell me the they like it, I’m shocked (pleasantly so).
    As for dealing with criticism… I probably feel differently than those who say don’t read the reviews (I’m also not writing a book so it could be different), but when I face criticism (and I work for my family business, so I take it regularly) here’s what I do: Take it full bore, likely defend myself (often emotionally and incorrectly) in the moment and once that’s done, I try to replay the whole thing in my head. I try to watch it like a slow motion replay in sports and try to assess the situation. I look back and try to separate what is that person’s issue, what I have no intention of changing (even if I should) and what I should work on (and how I can do that). Reviews suck. Criticism sucks. Three quarters of it is useless, but in that 25% are the things that will make the next thing better. It may not be fun, but it can be useful. And that usefulness makes the torment of the whole thing worth while. Especially after the 10th drink or so.

      • says

         @Erin F.  @MSchechter Kick ass points, Mr. M Schechter. For one, I immediately hold anyone in high regard who starts off a comment with “Dear nut job.” But the rest was good too. I also start off with low expectations, and that helps, but I think you covered another great point that I didn’t cover in my narcissistic post, which is that we shouldn’t be totally closed off to criticism… or at least the right pieces of criticism. Some of it should be ignored, but if you close yourself off to all of it, you get in trouble, usually. What I’m about to find out, however, is how and when to pay attention to reviewers, which may be different than constructive or insightful criticism, who knows, I’ll find out… Thanks for talking this through… a lot cheaper than therapy. What do I owe you? A $30 copay?

      • says

         @yuvizalkow  @MSchechter I haven’t been on the receiving end of a review, but I’ve written them. I have an entirely different approach to writing them than I do to writing or giving criticism. There I go, making the conversation all about me…Anyway, my perspective is that you can’t do much with a review. It might help you when you’re working on your next book or project, but it’s not as though you can go back and change things in the original work (Well, I guess you could if you wanted to publish a second edition.). What I like about reviews is that they allow you to see your work through other people’s eyes. Maybe you were writing about something without even realizing it. A review sometimes can illuminate that thing.

  3. jlweinberg says

    Writing is horrifying, my friend. You are walking around with your hairy balls swinging in the breeze and everyone gets to talk about them. And yet you do it because you have to do it, right? There is no other choice. No matter how crazy a character is or how disturbing his behavior, if the writing is good, readers will be hooked. As far as the terror goes, look it straight in the eye and then give it a big sloppy kiss. Terror is like a scary looking dog. Often you just need to pet it and suddenly you’ll find it humping your leg. Read all criticism while in a closet in your boxers. Have a box of tissues, bottle of  booze and salty snacks.
    Send me an ARC and I’ll give you a kick ass review and stick that handsome sucker right on the front table of Annie Bloom’s. 

    • says

       @jlweinberg Hairy balls, sloppy kisses, humping legs, box of tissues, bottle of booze, and salty snacks. You cover some fabulous ground in one comment. Thanks for sharing your perspective on it. Especially after reading the potent, 100% balls out material you are publishing at your site…

  4. jlweinberg says

    p.s. after I had a poem published my father-in-law told me all about his “friend” who said that my writing was completely incomprehensible. And since my fil seems to have memory issues he repeated the story about his “friend” multiple times during the trip and added new insults each time. It was awesome. 

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