Sunday, January 08, 2006

Return of the Rambling, or " . . . and Knowing Is Half the Battle"

While I am not yet ready to make it available to anyone and everyone who could stumble across the blog, I have slowly started to distribute TOFKAP to various friends and family members; primarily those who (a) are the most likely to read that sort of genre anyway or (b) have been the most interested in/pestered me the most about TOFKAP. Oh, and for those of you wondering, the title of TOFKAP is In a Cabin in the Woods, which I will probably refer to as Cabin from here on out rather than TOFKAP. Until, y'know, I get struck by the urge to call it something else. Anyway, the whole process has been an interesting one on several levels, but now as I wait to hear feedback from the latest round of readers, I find myself pondering my reasons for writing in the first place.

First of all, I write primarily for myself; I also write because I have no choice. Ideas pop into my head and refuse to fully disperse until I see them through to their inevitable conclusion. Sometimes they can get submerged for a time, but they always come bobbing back up to the surface. Take for example the second and fourth stories in Cabin: some of the characters in them have been living in my head since I was in elementary school; the basic plot of the second story has remained mainly unchanged since Junior High; the first written draft was attempted on my ride back from a leadership conference in Breckenridge, CO my Senior year; the next draft was started about 8 years later, while I was waiting to do my interview for my first job at UNT; and now, it's finally complete. Sort of. But, more on that some other time. The important thing here is that most of this was just stuff that I did to entertain myself, composing it all in my head but rarely taking the time and energy to put it into print. Which, in retrospect, is a good thing; when I think back to the early "drafts" of these stories, I cringe.

So, yes, I write primarily for myself; and yet, at the same time, I almost always feel compelled to share my writing with others. Why is that? Is it a desire to entertain others? A search for validation? A masochistic streak? I can't say with any certainty, but I do know that for some reason, my compositions don't feel "real" to me until they've been shared with somebody else. This goes for anything I write, from fiction to movie/TV reviews to cathartic unloading of psychological baggage. Until I get confirmation that it's been experienced by another person, it's not truly complete. That's one of the reasons I started the blog, so I could have an easy venue for distributing my ramblings, one which, ideally, would encourage others to engage in some sort of give and take.

Now we get into the tricky part of the relationship between reader/writer; the giving and receiving of feedback. You have no idea how gratifying it was to find out that people were actually reading the blog; you see, no matter how much my writings amuse and entertain me, I have a hard time convincing myself that they'll do the same for others. So, to find out that others were not only reading my ramblings, but enjoying them, was surprising and fulfilling at the same time. Of course, knowing that it was a bit of a success just ramped up my fear of eventual failure since I now had a standard to maintain, but hey, if I didn't have something to obsess over I wouldn't be worthy of the name Cap'n Neurotic, now would I? Still, when it comes to blog-feedback, I tend not to obsess as much as I might on other things; I know Dr. G'ovich isn't a huge fan of my TV Tuesday posts, but I also know there are at least three regular readers who are, so it balances out. I do worry that the sporadic quality of my posting during the last couple of months due to distraction with Cabin might have alienated some of the blog monkeys, but really, there was nothing I could do about that; practically every waking moment not spent at work or church was consumed with working through the ins and outs of my experiment in writing. It was a strange feeling; after such a long time of writing primarily for myself, I found myself in a situation where I was also writing for others on a daily basis; but then I was suddenly thrust back into writing primarily for myself again, and the writing for others suffered for it. It shouldn't have bothered me so much; I doubt there's a single regular blog monkey who isn't a personal friend, co-worker, or family member, and I'm not getting any recompense for this outside of the warm fuzzies generated by knowing I'm providing a small bit of entertainment (or at the very least mild distraction) to others. But I felt like I'd entered into some sort of social contract, and by skimping on the blogging I was breaking that contract and letting people down. Yes, I have issues.

Back to the matter which got this rambling started: In a Cabin in the Woods. As you now know, it started out as a surprise Christmas gift for Flunky, which is one of the reasons I was so secretive about it on the blog. But as Cap'ns Cluck and Disaster can tell you, I was also secretive about it in real life as well. Why? Hard to say; I think in the beginning it was a fear that I wouldn't be able to pull it off like I wanted, that it would be derailed by writer's block or burnout or lack of talent or something else; by not disclosing the exact details I was protecting myself from dashing other's expectations. There was also a bit of "what if they think it sounds like a stupid idea?" working there. Honestly, for that first week or two, I wasn't sure if I was ever going to share the full details of what I was doing with more than a handful of people. But, as I dove into it more, and became more convinced that this was something that I was going to be able to pull off with some level of success, I started to broaden the circle of who knew about it. There was little rhyme or reason to why I shared with some people and not with others; I was working totally on gut instinct there. That was when I recruited my dad and Fellow Book Monkey and Blogger Bubblegum Tate into being test-readers; Wrath teh Berzerkr later volunteered himself as the third after I asked for his opinion on some of the names and terms I made up for the final story. Of course, my dad was the only one who read the whole thing and gave me much in the way of feedback before I sent Cabin to Clan Flunky.

From the instant I sent off the first portion of the first draft to anyone, I was on pins and needles waiting for feedback; it’s one thing to put up some random bit of rambling on the blog each day, but to try to create a world out of whole cloth, complete with fully realized characters and a plot that isn't filled with logical inconsistencies and holes you can drive a Mack truck through, well, that's a horse of a different color. That nervousness has doubled and trebled with each copy I've sent out; I both crave and dread feedback. What sort of response will constitute a happy ending for me? Will I be satisfied as long as the positive reactions outnumber the negative, even if only by one? Or will I let even a single negative reaction harsh my buzz? Should I give more weight to certain opinions over others? How should I take a complaint held by one person if nobody else echoes it? Most importantly, in the end, which is more important: satisfying myself, or satisfying the reader?

So far, I've received substantial feedback from three people, all positive, for the most part. I mean, I can't really complain about someone saying that they read all 117 pages in one night because it was such a compelling read, can I? Another of the reviewers was very straightforward about what she thought did and didn't work, which I appreciated; most of the cons she pointed out were things which had concerned me as I was writing, with maybe one point of criticism taking me by surprise. Still, at this point I think having three people who've enjoyed it overall counts as a moral victory of sorts. Of course, it’s easy to say that when I haven’t received any overwhelmingly negative feedback . . .

I realize that Cabin isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, one of the pitfalls of a portmanteau* piece partaking of different styles and genres. After reading one story (which is very much of the horror genre), my mom proclaimed that she knew she should have made me read more Hardy Boys when I was younger instead of Stephen King. In a similar vein, Flunky Lover told me that she wasn't as thrilled with the horror-tinged stories as she was the others, since that's not something she typically enjoys. I think that's one of the things that's going to interest me the most; finding out which stories were enjoyed by which readers, and why.

I've been asked by a few people about what sort of feedback I'm looking for, to which I have replied, "I dunno." Before sending it off to Flunky I was mainly concerned with whether it all made sense to anyone besides myself; after Dad finished it all and said it made sense to him, that took care of that. So, what sort of feedback should you give me? Whatever you want to tell me, as long as it's truthful; not looking for false praise here. Just want to say you liked it? Fine. Want to shower me with praises? Double fine. Want to tell me that you didn't care for it, and here's exactly where I went wrong? I'm bracing myself even as we speak; honestly, as long as it's a bit more substantial than just saying "This stinks!” I'm game. Don’t want to say anything at all? That’s your prerogative; I really only want to hear back from you if you feel compelled to share. Okay, that's a lie: I always want to hear back from anyone who reads anything write (compulsive need for validation, don’tcha know), but if you don't want to, I promise I won't hold it against you. Much. As for how to share your thoughts, feel free to email, IM, phone, and/or ambush me face-to-face; I’ll strive to take both praise and criticism graciously.

Now, if you’re one of those who has not been selected to receive a copy of Cabin, but would like to subject yourself to a series of horror, SF, and fantasy stories penned by yours truly, then please, feel free to pester me, and I’ll see about maybe hooking you up.

All right, that went on a lot longer than I had planned, and veered into directions I hadn’t anticipated; Cap’n Rambling is back!

*portmanteau: term used to describe a work consisting of several shorter stories with a common linking device which often serves as a final full story in its own right; popular format for horror films, particularly the Amicus films of the 70s; Stephen King’s Creepshow, Creepshow 2 and Cat’s Eye are some more recent examples. Now you know . . .


coronela said...

if you need another reader, i can read it when i'm back in town from pittsburgh if you like!