I am not having a good writing month. You can usually tell that’s happening when you see my “Writing Wednesday” posts vanish, because I can’t bring myself to hold myself publicly accountable when I’ve had negative word-counts and I’m behind schedule and it’s just depressing, not motivating. If something is anti-motivating? I don’t do it. I’m not down with “you must write every day or you’re not a writer” as advice specifically because I know not every writer (yours truly included) can work that way, so all that kind of advice does is crush potential writers.
So. Why am I bringing this up right now? Well, I’ve got two weeks left on my deadlines and I believe I’m going to make it, but I’m struggling every single day. It’s uphill. It’s not coming easily. I’m in a terrible headspace—I don’t even know why I’m in a terrible headspace—and as such there couldn’t have been better timing for what just happened this morning.
I got validation.
Now, I don’t think authors (or artists in general) talk enough about how much validation matters, and maybe it’s just me with my own fragile ego, but if I can be blunt? Creating without validation sucks. It’s like emptying a bucket and only having a dripping pipe to refill it with.
Empty praise isn’t validation, by the way. Someone saying “I liked it,” does zilch. Someone gushing about how they connected with something is fantastic, and that does help refill the bucket. Best, though, is someone talking about how they connected with a piece, asking questions, talking about it, but also offering some constructive feedback about how the piece could be even stronger? That’s engagement and that’s so very validating. It refills my bucket like you wouldn’t believe.
Do I sound needy? I don’t mean to. It’s more I’m trying to say when you put something creative out into the world, no matter how much it’s for the “art” or how many times you say, “I don’t care if no one ever touches this, I needed to create it,” the reality is—for me, at least—it’s a little bit soul-crushing when creativity is met with crickets.
And that’s part of why I struggle so much with writing novels. I’m not a fast writer (by many standards) and as such, I can put together a novel a year (he says, eyeing the looming deadline with frayed nerves). That’s a whole year working on something in a bubble. It’s draining to me. Short fiction isn’t like that at all—I can have a piece ready for feedback within a week (or even a weekend, sometimes, when lightning strikes), and then I have an opportunity to refill that damn bucket.
Novels nearly drain it dry.
This is why I try to keep on top of writing short fiction at the same time, as it’s an opportunity to—hopefully—garner reminders that I can do this thing I’m doing. And today I got a big one.
The last time I entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, I was out in the first round, but the feedback I received was pretty good, and I was happy with what I wrote. When I entered this year, I was even happier with what I wrote, but very nervous: it was very, very queer. Like, a retelling of Pinocchio queer, including hooking him up with Candlewick. I was pretty sure I’d be out in the first round again, but the feedback from the judges was so solid last year that I looked forward to it anyway.
The way the contest works this year was this: each group was given a genre (my group was ‘fairy tale’), an object (‘a ticket stub’) and a location (‘an abandoned railroad car’), and they’ve got a strictly limited word count to tell a story with. The top fifteen entries in each category are given points, first place getting 15 points, second place getting 14 points, and so on, all the way down. Everyone moves on to the second round—this was another reason I signed up again, as it meant double the feedback—and the points from both rounds are added together to see who moves on thereafter.
This morning I got the update that the stories had been judged, and…
And there’s me, in first place in group 68, out of thirty-one entrants.
Validation, folks? It’s a great, great thing. Even if they did call me Jonathan instead of ‘Nathan.