I talked in my previous post about creative isolation and the anxieties that can often result from it. But if you’re like me, if you’re a solitary individual, isolation is crucial to the creative process. The peace and quiet of my own company is the environment in which my imagination thrives, and I have to do the bulk of my work in solitude, otherwise it would not be my work.
I tried writing in cafes and wine bars once or twice. It was fun, but for the most part, Mindguard was created in my office, in the company of no one but my Netherland dwarf bunny.
However, like all things, writing requires balance. As I was nearing the end of my first draft, productivity was noticeably decreasing. I felt burnt out and was just in no mood to work or to interact with the world and characters of Mindguard in any way.
Sheldon, Tamisa, Mac - who I love dearly and the thought of whom had always brought me comfort and serenity - were now starting to become annoying, like visiting friends overstaying their welcome. To me, the story started to seem tiresome, like a movie you're watching for the hundredth time.
Put simply, I had become satiated with my own mind. The vast universe that my office once seemed, was slowly developing into a prison cell. Sheldon, Tamisa and the others were my cell-mates.
That’s when I finally decided to work up the courage to send the first two thirds of my novel out to some acquaintances, for beta-reading. To say that their input was invigorating would be an unforgivable understatement.
To them, Sheldon and Tamisa were not friends who had overstayed their welcome; they were exciting new acquaintances with whom they couldn't wait to hang out. The story wasn't a tiresome tale they knew by heart but an engaging and unpredictable ride with thrilling twists and turns around every corner.
One of my beta-readers, a good friend, kept updating me on her progress, with e-mails that reflected her growing involvement in the story. She went from “yeah, it’s pretty interesting” to “I love/hate this character” to, finally:
F$&k, I did not see that coming! Awesome!! It's freakin' awesome, I really can't wait to see where it's going. Everyone seems to have a hidden agenda. It's really good, you should be super proud. I know I am :)
At the time I was in Austria, covering a jazz festival for The Music and Myth. After reading that e-mail, I couldn't wait to get back home and start work on the last part. I wrote it with a passion I hadn't felt in a while. My friend’s enthusiasm for my story fueled my own. Knowing that I had an audience anxiously awaiting the final part gave me a creative force I hadn't felt in months.
The same friend called me on the phone one day and spent about twenty minutes telling me how much she hated one of the characters. She hated that character so vigorously she devoured the rest of the manuscript, anxious to learn the character’s ultimate fate. For me, that was raw fuel. I went through the second draft with extreme determination. I strongly believe this feedback, and the enthusiasm it awoke in me, made Mindguard a better book.
More recently, I was sort of passively trying to come up with the plot for the sequel. I had bits and pieces, but no inkling of a big picture and I wasn't stressing, because I’m currently working on an unrelated novel. However, Mindguard had already been released by this time and I got the following personal feedback from a reader.
F$%k you and your book! I hope the sequel is 70/80% finished. I haven’t been so caught up in a book since reading Game of f$%#ing Thrones! And you f%&^%ing murderer.*
*that last statement I won’t go into for spoiler-related reasons
Anyway, this was by far my favorite feedback ever. This is exactly the response I’m looking for as a writer. I hadn't thought about the sequel in a while and I didn't realize I was even thinking about it when, drinking coffee the next morning, the whole plot came to me in less than thirty seconds. All the bits and pieces fell into place and I now have the sequel to Mindguard planned out in detail. All it took was one reader letting me know that the book is "highly anticipated".
I’m sure that many writers are in my position and I would imagine that most draw strength, courage and, most importantly, inspiration from their readers. The point of this blog entry is to let readers know just how important their feedback is, and how much of an effect it can have on a writer’s work (depending, of course, on the writer and the degree to which he or she likes interacting with the audience).
Of course, it’s easy when the feedback is good. Mindguard is still very fresh and I’m happy that all the feedback I've received so far has been extremely positive. I’m also aware that it won’t always be like this. I hope I’ll be able to learn from the negative feedback I will undoubtedly receive at some point and, though I won’t delude myself into thinking that it won’t sting, I’ll always have the comfort of knowing that there are people out there waiting for me to just “write the f$#&ing sequel already!”