Saturday, January 29, 2011

Adulthood and Waiting on Universal Approval

When I was little, like most other people I expect, I thought growing up was the best possible thing. I thought that being an adult had to be great, because there were no bedtimes and nobody telling you what you could or could not do, you got to eat whatever you wanted and do whatever you wanted, and you knew all the answers.

Right. Obviously, as I got older, I realized that growing up is painful and confusing and that you often don't feel like you've got a clue what is happening or should be. That you can do what you want, but you have to be the one to bear the consequences for your decisions and actions. That no one comes along to tell you what the best decision is, and worse, much of the time there is no single right decision or answer. I don't have a bedtime, but I do have people to tell me what I have to wear, and frankly a lot of people telling me what I can and can't do. I certainly don't have all the answers, and I can't eat whatever I want because I know about things like clogged arteries and sugar crashes and caffeine addiction and diabetes.

Being an adult isn't easy. I don't much like it most days. I remember my mother telling me that, naturally. To enjoy the freedom I had. There are plenty of days when I'd love to go back to, say, my senior year of high school. No real bills, a car to drive (for which I only had to cover my gas), my own room, enough money to cover many of my wants . . . I wish I'd understand how nice that bit was! But of course, I didn't. Do we ever?

Not that life is so bad. It's not, actually. Things are pretty decent for the moment. I'm thinking about adulthood today, because we did adult things today. Our annual meeting with the financial planner was this morning. Compared to our meeting with him last year and our initial meeting with him, it's pretty neat how far we've come. At the first meeting, we went over the numbers we'd sent him and he tried not to look horrified. Last year, there was some small difference, but it was minor and we still had a long way to go.

This year, we left looking smug and patting ourselves on the shoulder for our responsible adult status. We have growing cash reserves and are about halfway to our goal. We have life insurance for both of us to cover the big costs should something happen to either of us. Our debt on record will be paid off this year. We don't have much by way of investments yet, but the single investment we do have is performing at maximum capacity, which is fantastic. Having that is reserve is a really comforting thing. We still need to bring some balance to everything by starting some secure retirement savings in a 403b or a Roth IRA (haha, I know what those words mean!), which we anticipate doing later this year, after the debt decreases. (Our company doesn't match them, and we're paying into our matched retirement plans already, which is why we don't have one at present.)

We felt pretty good.

* * * * *

I suppose I'm in a rambling sort of mood. Hmm.

This is unrelated to the above, really, but on my mind. I think the people often only want to hear good things. I am certainly guilty of it. I'm on this train of thought because I updated one of my stories tonight. I'm ahead of the posting by 8-10 chapters at any given time. This chapter is slow, and doesn't advance the plot much, and honestly pretty smutty. I get nervous about posting chapters like that, because I fear losing the audience. It's one thing if you're in a book or completed story to read a bridging chapter. It's another if you are in a work in progress, because you begin to wonder if you are ever going to get anywhere. And smut is such a delicate thing.

I personally like smut. I think I write it well - better than a lot, anyhow. I try not to make repetitive or boring (though, in the end, only so many primary erogenous zones and only so many orifices, you know?), to make it as much about what the characters are feeling and experiencing than simple physical mechanics; that, of course, is what makes sex great to me anyway. I make an effort to make sure the smut is 'earning its time on the page' and not unnecessarily gratuitous.

But a lot of other people don't like smut, so I get nervous. I have not received any negative reviews. Well, I got one that mentioned some minor grammar mistakes, but the overall review was positive. And while I do my best to edit (because I loathe putting out written pieces in any format that contain errors), I don't have a beta or an editor reviewing the work. To produce the most polished pieces, an editor is necessary, simply because as the author, your mind tends to supplement what you meant to say for what you've actually written. So a missing word here or there, or an oddly turned sentence is easy to overlook because you know what you are trying to say.

The reality of course is that I write my stories for my own pleasure and amusement, and universal approval is unlikely to be forthcoming. I take it seriously enough, though, that I want my work to be of high quality. I want to ensure that whether or not it's liked, that it at least is well-written. I eagerly anticipate new reviews when I post.

However, I tend not to leave as many reviews as I should, unless they are glowing. And I won't leave a glowing review if I don't mean it. There have been many pieces I read through and rolled my eyes over and closed out of. Sometimes I put up with poor grammar and spelling or leaps of logic because there is something interesting there. But I don't leave a lot of constructive criticism. I should. I know how much I treasure reviews and anticipate them and feel frustrated when something I feel particularly proud of gets little concrete notice. Of course, there are stats. I know how many hits I've received and how many visitors I've had, but that is no indication of how they felt about it. If someone opens it and leaves in a disgusted huff after a chapter, I don't know. There are a handful of trusted people with whom I've discussed the stories and it's been fascinating; talking it out, getting feedback, re-evaluating or seeing what is or isn't coming through. Invigorating in some respects.

So I know I ought to offer that up to other authors. Honestly assess what is and isn't working, tell them what I enjoyed and didn't, ask probing questions, engage in that invigorating discussion.

But I don't. There have been plenty of times I started to write a review of constructive criticism - find something to praise while I pick at something that needs work - only to shut the window without submitting the review. Partly, my own guilty conscience interferes. I remember the last chapter's typo, or how annoyed I was to get that review referencing small grammar errors. I remind myself no one is perfect. Or I'm afraid I'm being too harsh, or I can't actually find much complimentary about it and question why I'm bothering.

Tonight, I read a story and I recognized the author as someone who had had my stories on alert, maybe left a review or two. The story started off well; a few minor issues in the first chapter, but an interesting premise. It dropped off sharply though. Quality was questionable, there were a multitude of spelling and grammar issues which made reading the story a chore. There were lots of run on sentences (and I can be guilty of those, but at least mine have punctuation!) and some sentences with such convoluted structure as to be incoherent. The scenes were choppy and jumped around in such a way that it was clear the author knew what he/she was thinking and thought they'd conveyed it to the reader, while in reality, it felt jumbled and skipped over. Long descriptions devoted to a room or a person, but little by way of explanation for what the character/s were experiencing. Additionally, it shifted between first and third person narratives and between present and past tense. Basically, if the premise hadn't held some promise, and I hadn't recognized the name, I'd have clicked out. It simply wasn't good and very nearly wasn't readable.

I was feeling charitable though, and really did believe the person could make something good with a good editor or beta reader. On looking, I realized they had a beta reader. I was shocked. If this was the polished version, then they have the worst beta ever! Ok, ok, some beta readers don't really do editing, but still. I wrote a review, praising the concept, and pointing out the flaws. I listed the issues I had, but a lot more nicely than I did above, and said I normally wouldn't leave a review with so many negatives, were it not for the fact I thought the story had promise. I apologized for being harsh in the review (though, seriously, it was far nicer than anything I'd have said in a different format), and gently suggested they consider a second beta reader. What I wanted to say was "Look, this is practically unreadable and very nearly a pile of shit. And whatever your beta is doing, she isn't making this better. Unless she is, in which case, just quit now. Your command of the English language and rules of grammar is sketchy, and until you fix that, this is not going to be worth your effort. Get a new beta and give it another go."

But I didn't. I thought it would be rude. Apparently though, I still insulted her. Because I inadvertently stumbled across her bitching about my review in an open forum I visit occasionally but do not actively participate in. Oops? Another poster said that my review was harsh but that it was clear I was trying to provide constructive criticism rather than being rude. Still, I noticed this author no longer subscribes to my stories and that I'm still waiting for more reviews to soothe my nerves about my own story.

The experience though is pushing me back into my mantra in this review area - if I can't say only nice things, I won't review. This author begged for reviews and for feedback, going so far as to threaten not to post additional chapters until a certain number of reviews were achieved (which, frankly, is so tacky and rude. I despise that and generally refuse to review on principle). What they ought to have said, and what I often feel like saying is "Positive feedback to stroke my ego and inflate my low self-confidence welcome. Otherwise, bugger off."

1 comment:

B said...

i quite like being an adult. even though all those things you listed *are* really shitty, and really hard to cope with at times.

yay to moving towards your financial goals! :)

as to the feedback/writing thing, ugh. i used to belong to a couple of online writers' groups. most of the members had done writing fiction courses with the Open University that involved giving details feedback and support to others. but i used to give really detailed feedback with suggestions for clarity or improvement, and would get back about my stories 'oh, this is great! i really enjoyed it!' none of the detailed feedback i offered others. it made me think that i should actually charge for my reading/editing services. if the whole babyloss thing hadn't happened, maybe i would have. an option for you, though?