Saturday, June 18, 2011

Two rules for keeping friends...

I have two simple rules for keeping and maintaining solid friendships...

RULE #1: Don't ask friends to move, only accept their help if they offer, but leave them with a workable guilt-free excuse that day if they decide to back out at the last minute.

RULE #2: Don't ask friends for feedback on your novel. Only offer your novel up if a friend expresses interest, but once you hand it off to them, do not (try not) to ask them about it later.

An awesome midget painting next to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, way more interesting in my opinion

A novel is a time commitment. It's art in long form. Easy enough to head out to an art gallery and take in all the countless hours of sweat and tears that went into that art in a small span of time. Rose and I toured the Louvre in a break-neck 3 hours one night. I doubt we got as much out of it as those tourists camped out on nearby benches admiring each work for an half-hour or more. I'm not a visual artist after all, and I only have a cursory knowledge of art history. But still, opinions were formed, emotions evoked, curiosity piqued, etc... Basically its one thing to ask some one to "take a look at my painting!". There's really no chore in doing so. But when it comes to writing? A completely different story.

Dustin Hoffman, more awesome than your actor-friend

It's challenging to think of art with regard to time. But we're busy human beings and our time is tied up in the basics of survival (unfortunately): jobs, household duties, socializing, food procurement, etc... To make room for art (and especially unproven art) is a challenge. Believe me, you're much more likely to want to go check out Dustin Hoffman play Willy Lowman in the Broadway version of "Death of a Salesman" then you are to want to go check your friend's one-man play down at the corner repertorie theater. Sure, your friend's in it, you like your friend, and they worked really really hard on their act, but seriously... Dustin Hoffman's way more awesome than your friend will ever be acting-wise. But hey, your friend's play is only an hour or so, what's an hour out of your life?

An aside: Art, I believe, can be broken down into its time commitment as follows...
paintings/sculptures/photography < poetry/songs < ballet/plays/film < opera/symphony < long-form writing

Again, a different story when it comes to novels. To slog through a friends overwritten plot-holed 150K work opus is misery. And providing feedback? Even more miserable. "Yeah, your baby's ugly. Not sure why, it just is..." Most unpublished writers aren't that good, because they're unpublished. You'd much rather speed through a Clancy Rainbow Six novel than you would your friends nonsensical Star Wars pastiche.  As a writer, I think its important to admit that to yourself.

When you're offering your novel to friends, your burdening them in a way. They may actually be really interested in what you wrote, perhaps as a means to gain insight into your inner workings, a voyeuristic journey perhaps. But once they run up against some of your writing weaknesses, they lose steam. It's human nature. I've given my novel to countless friends, but only a few brave souls have ever told me months later, they read the entire thing. And to ask for honest criticism? Don't count on it. They don't want to hurt your feelings. But if they do offer up a few nuggets of advice, whatever you do, don't hold it against them. You borrowed eight+ hours of their life, to get angry at them because they "had some issues" with your book is selfish.

As a struggling writer, getting honest thoughtful and meaningful criticism is a terrible challenge. Take what you can get, I say. When you ask a friend "tell me what you really think", don't just say it, mean it. 

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