My mom and I are both writers. She’s just getting into fiction after working mainly in non-fiction for most of her life, and I’m failing to stay on task for actually getting any writing done at all, so we’re trying to arrange a weekly reading and critique of each other’s work. This is hard for both of us – both because we have difficult schedules and because neither of us is terribly comfortable showing other people our “beta” work, which is what this would be.
So, the first order of business was to decide what kind of writing we should work on. My mom isn’t working on any particular projects right now, so she needs to figure out some ideas, maybe a short story starter book or something for writing exercises. I want to work on finishing a book, but the question is, which one? I have about 7 totally different book ideas, all of which I’ve at least started a basic outline for and written a few chapters.
I decided I should ask my mom what she wants to read. After all, the books I’m working on are pretty darn varied, and she’s the one who will have to deal with the content week after week. So I tell her the general ideas behind all the books. There’s a sci-fi, I tell her, and a dark-and-sweet noir type story. There’s a spy comedy and a story about either insanity or imagination, depending on how you look at it. I’m working on a story about animals, a take on the hero/villian genre, and last one of those human dramas where everything seems disconnected until the last few chapters where you bring it all together.
My mom listens to me explaining these ideas, and then she says “Any of those would be fine, except I don’t think I really want to hear the animal one. That doesn’t sound interesting to me.”
This, of course, makes me explode.
Not interesting? How could anything I do not be interesting? (cue sniggers here)
Now I’m on the defensive, not to mention utterly convinced that the animal story is precisely the one I want to work on, the one that I’ll finally finish and that will win me my 15 seconds of fame/glory. I go into greater detail – it’s not really an animal story, you see, but more of a metaphor for life (because that’s original) and all about the characters who are even more interesting than the animals – which are hilarious in their own right — and there’s this great plot that embodies the human struggle especially in relationships which it explores (this is sounding worse and worse even as I type this on the page) and it’s more of a high art piece disguised as pop culture to kinda trick people into getting something out of it (really? am I that pompous? uck.).
My mom just listens to me ramble on defending this story (which may be better than it sounds, but probably not by much) for a while. Then when I finally look at her to respond, she goes “Ok, well that’s great honey, but it’s just not my kind of thing I don’t think. I’m more interested in the sci-fi. But I’m sure it’s something other people will read, so that’s ok.”
I was about to give her a great retort that was certain to change her mind, when I realized – what I had just described wasn’t something I wanted to read, either. And that may have been the problem with the whole story. If I’m not writing something I want to read, it ends up being lackluster, totally without soul. I think that’s my biggest problem with non-fiction, but it seems to be showing up in fiction as well now, some sort of creeping rotting kudzu (zombie kudzu?) in my mind. I had lost sight of having fun writing something I love, and was focusing on exactly what Mom pointed out – “something other people will read”. But the truth is, no one wants to read a book the author didn’t want to write.
I went back and rethought the story. I don’t think I have all the kinks worked out yet, but I’m enjoying it again. Only I still need to work on something else to show Mom next week. Because you can’t force people to read your work. Ok, maybe you can, but you can’t force them to enjoy it. And if there’s no enjoyment involved, whatever you want to say about the human condition will never really be heard.
My next goal? Figure out what I really want to say about the human condition.