Saturday, August 21, 2010

Oooh, a Revelation

Over the past few months, while working on my novel manuscript and slogging my way (slowly as it may be) through my review copy pile, I've come to a very strange conclusion about myself, writing, and what I enjoy most about being a tiny cog in the publishing machine.

I enjoy my position as a reviewer/interviewer far more than I do as an author.

Most days, when I work on the novel, I'm forced to admit to myself that I do not know how to write a book at all. I've cut the story up into chapters and then into scenes and plugged them into Scrivener for easy labeling, tracking and editing. Some days, when I go through each individual section, I shake my head and wonder why I'm doing this at all. Other days, I come across something I've written and think to myself, "Damn, that's actually pretty good," but those are few and far between. I think one of my biggest issues is that I work predominantly in a vacuum. I don't reach out for beta readers the way I used to, and the people closest to me that read what I've written don't usually have the expertise to offer much beyond a congratulation before asking me when the book will be out. Because of this, I have no way of gauging the novel's worth or worthlessness, and combining this with my newness to long fiction results in a lot of anxiety.

As a reviewer, though, I get to shine a critical eye on other people's works, something that comes far more naturally to me. Sometimes my inability to shut off my critic/editor/whatever becomes annoying or painful, depending on how far into overdrive it goes. Most of the time, though, it leads me to push myself beyond what I believe my brain is capable of understanding. Lately, as I've read, I've found myself taking in more, expanding my vocabulary, absorbing concepts that normally would have been beyond my comprehension. I am growing, and eventually I may be able to take a look at myself and feel something akin to pride.

One of the greatest things a reviewer can ever experience is author praise and camaraderie. It's a feedback loop of great rewards. How many of us, during our school years, were forced to read biographies of long-dead authors tucked haphazardly into the margins of our textbooks and noticed that, with great frequency, writers and other academics wrote letters back and forth to one another, personal missives full of mundane details that somehow managed over time to transmute themselves into something special?

I was always rather spellbound by those. X author wrote to Y author, and Y author wrote back, every line bottled up and saved for posterity. Those communiques always seemed as authentic, if not more so, than the published works of the artists involved. It was like having a front-row seat to the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the curtain pulled back and the little man at the controls was revealed. I loved it.

I have experienced that now, in small doses. Once in a while an author will email me to let me know they've read my review of their work, or they've read my review of someone else's and they want me to look over theirs, and it feels surreal. Being told by the source of a work you've enjoyed greatly that yes, you got the point is a sensation akin to finding out that you aced that final exam you were so sure you failed spectacularly. I still have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that people intentionally seek me out for my opinion, but it keeps happening and it feels amazing every time. It's validation; it's proof that I'm growing; it's a reason to keep doing what I do.

It's a feeling just as exhilarating, if not more so, than seeing my own byline in print.