Monday, January 9, 2017


Did you ever have one of those moments when you’ve been trying really hard at something for a really long time, and you finally get to the point where you think, “You know what?  I suck at this.  For better or worse, this is not my destiny.  I’m wasting my time.”
I’m having one of those moments right now.
Here’s what happened. I sent my memoir to a friend.  Spoiler Alert: she hated it.  Actually, that’s not fair.  Really, what she said was that it was so poorly written that she didn’t think it would be a legitimate use of her already precious time to read it.  She couldn’t give me feedback.  The crap I have right now, as written, doesn’t rise to the level of critiquing.  

Now, you might think this was harsh feedback, but truth be told, I’m not upset--at least not about that.  My friend is legitimately busy, and I always feel like a heel inflicting my shit on other people.  Like, I KNOW it is a major imposition to ask people to read my stuff.  I read enough of other people’s stuff to understand this, and it doesn’t hurt my feelings when those same people read mine and tell me what they think in clear language.  Kind lies help no one, and I too am busy.
Here’s the problem.  I’ve been writing pretty much every day since September 1999, and it seems like I’m no better off now than I was way back then.  People keep telling me the same thing, that I need to “show” my stories rather than “tell” them, and while I understand this intellectually, I literally cannot see it in my own work.  Regardless of scene structure, you as a reader are always taking my word for whatever it is I’m telling you as a writer, and I just can’t parse when simple declarative statements make sense.  
It’s driving me batty.
People keep telling me that I get too attached to my writing, but in this, they are projecting their own failures onto me.  Unless you know Stephen King, I am almost certainly the fastest writer you’ve ever met.  My writing may suck shit, but there is a Hell of a lot of it.  It’s not always great, but at a minimum it usually makes narrative sense.  This doesn’t mean that I’m attached to anything.  It means that I put down a fuckload of words.  Somehow, I seem to do okay with Dungeons and Dragons adventures and with simple sports analysis.  People like that stuff, for better or worse.  However, people hate my fiction.  It’s driving me crazy, not because I’m unwilling to cut or to rewrite.  I’ve thrown whole novels away--more than you’d think, I’m sure.  The problem is that I’m rewriting ineffectively.  I literally cannot see when, why, or how my writing fails.  It’s a total blind spot.
It feels like a systemic problem.  I have no idea what you people like or why, and I don’t know how to bridge the gap.  My view of the world must be so alien, so far removed from whatever counts as average, that I simply cannot see why you people want to read the things that you do.
Call that whatever you want; I feel like I need a new hobby.  Or maybe, for my own mental health, I just need to give up this one.


  1. Dan -- I hate to be a smart ass... but I can't resist.... I enjoyed reading the above. Here's to better critiques in the future.. don't give up on it if you enjoy it!

    1. I'm not giving up, exactly, I'm just frustrated. There's no doubt that *some* of my writing has found an audience. But even after all this time, my fiction hasn't, and I'm starting to think that the problem is me personally and my specific background and worldview. I've been at this a LONG time, and I've not gotten anywhere. Meanwhile, I don't do failure well... or particularly often.

      For what it's worth, other West Pointers seem to like my stuff fine. That's either because they know me and like me and are therefore predisposed to like my stuff, or else they have the same worldview I do and therefore the same ideas about what works. Regardless, it's not you guys who are the problem. It's the rest of the planet with whom I seem unable to connect.