In theory, you never need "validation" from someone else regarding an activity you're doing. Particularly if it's something you enjoy. The fact that you LIKE it is what makes it valid, regardless of what others may think. But in practice, I suspect there are times when we all need some sort of external acknowledgement, be it in the form of written feedback, a vocal opinion, or simply a pat on the back.
Internal motivation can only get you so far.
|It can also get you into trouble.|
A friend of mine recently wrote this post: "A Writer or an Author?" It resonated, in part because it felt like I was the person in this passage: "I have a friend who, frustrated by the lack of tangible success, frustrated by all the time he poured into something that wasn't taking off, started questioning his own existence as a writer, because if a writer writes something and no one is around to read it... well, you get the drift."
The passage may not have been about me. (It's just that I'm so vain, I'll even think this song is about me.) Either way, her post got me thinking. Because despite outward appearances, I haven't actually doubted my abilities as a writer. What I HAVE questioned quite a LOT lately is whether my writing is worthwhile. Which to me is the difference between belief in a story, and a belief in the writing itself. I suspect we've all been there.
BELIEF IN STORY
|Depression is maximized|
I'll come back to that question.
What I wanted was validation. Some indication that my writing was focussed in the right place. To explain why I needed that, I'm going to contrast "Taylor's Polynomials" with another project of mine, "Time Trippers".
|"20 years but you never talk about us anymore!"|
Yet the lack of interest in "Time Trippers" doesn't bother me near as much as the lack of interest in "Taylor's Polynomials". Why is that?
After some careful consideration, I have two reasons. I'm curious to know whether anyone else has experienced some similar reasoning with any sort of project they're working on.
First, my serial needed more than I, alone, could give it. In so many ways.
I wrote the serial with the barest of outlines, so that I could incorporate any new ideas (which ended up coming from me), any current events (which ended up being whatever I saw), any reader interests (ultimately expressed months after the fact), and any educational uses (which never manifested). In other words, my minimalist writing style was for nothing. I could have simply written the whole thing in advance and set it to auto-post.
I also linked the serial out to other websites (that I searched on), I incorporated educational terms (that I knew of) and societal norms (from the standpoint of a white male). I tried to make engaging images (according to my aesthetics), I created recap episodes for new arrivals (that were not watched), and I did online marketing to the best of my abilities (which were obviously unhelpful).
I've mentioned I'm not good at group work, but in retrospect doing all that myself was ten kinds of ridiculous.
|It's unique... is there a point?|
Here, I needed the external feedback, the validation of my vision OR of my FEARS, so that I knew what direction to take the thing. But all I could think of to do to get a response was to keep shouting, in the hopes that someone else would perhaps echo the call. Nope.
If I had to do it over, I probably would have sent out a question every week asking for websites, or with simply a random question like "Ellipse or Parabola?", to basically FORCE my serial into a more dynamic state. Because without that push, the story became static, and withered, and died. Like a flower without sunlight.
BELIEF IN SELF
Secondly, the lack of interest bothered me because my serial had become me.
"Time Trippers" has had it's moments for me over the years. It's definitely an example of what I've been able to accomplish as a writer. But it hasn't extended THAT far into my life beyond the writing. In the end, if you don't read it, fair enough, time travel isn't for everyone. If it ends up as a failure, I will be depressed, but hopefully there will be other ideas.
Now, picture a project of yours that at some point became so all consuming that it actually became a part of you, helping to define who you were as a person. Maybe it's a job you had, or a regular gaming session you attended, or a website you've been running. Got it?
"Taylor's Polynomials" became that kind of project for me. It became everything I am, in no small part because I am a teacher, and it was envisioned as an educational serial. It was math, music, and geeky references, yes, but this wasn't just WRITING, it was drawing, marketing, online math researching, even something I used (infrequently) in my daily lessons. A Grade 11 student this year still remembered that 'a bow' meant a y-intercept from Grade 9.
But it went beyond THAT, it was a serial before I even knew what a serial was, it was my first blog before this one, it's what brought me to Twitter, it was the reason for my first commissioned artwork, it was the motivation for my first song parody. It prompted business cards, a shirt, a button, it was the weekly constant in my life, it exposed pieces of my psyche, it was my contribution to web originals, it was an idea born on the cusp of a personification craze that even Internet Explorer is on board with now! So FINE, if you don't read it, fair enough, I'M not for everyone... but now you're not rejecting a story. You're rejecting an identity.
|Feels like this, if you get the reference.|
Because IT was a failure does that make MY WRITING a failure?
In as much as this story became a part of me, YES, yes it does.
Because once what you DO has become such a part of who you ARE, you're at your most vulnerable. This is the point when a rejection will be seen as rejecting the person, and not the product - particularly when there IS only the person, it's NOT a group effort. And rejection comes in so many forms. From yet another email saying "Thank you very much for providing us with the chance to read your novel...", to "I'm sorry I don't have time for that now", to simple silence. To no one talking to you about that pet project.
It's at that point, once you've gone "all in" in a hand, and then realize that you've lost, that you feel like you didn't lose a single game. You lost at life. If the project is worthless, so are you. If everyone else has given up on you, you might as well give up on yourself. There's no reason to go on.
Point of order: I'm not there yet. But it's easy to get there, isn't it? (No? Just me?)
As I said at the beginning, I don't think I've personally questioned that I AM a writer. I have volumes of material and even a monthly column at MuseHack which testify to the fact that I am. I also don't know that I want to make the leap into becoming an author. Seems like it would involve even higher expectations, and a whole new set of problems. (Maybe that's partly why I'm resisting the whole self-publishing thing.) That said, I DO want to be remembered for something more than a "creative curiosity". So... time to step back from the cliff before being tempted to leap off of it. (Look, I've progressed from similes to metaphors!)
I'm reminded of something Mawi Asgedom said at his OAME session: "We all have our own story. The only reason my story has meaning is if it connects to your story."
I know that my serial, my story, did make some connections. Again, I'm glad. It's simply that there wasn't enough engagement to justify continuing at the present time (if ever). There's a chance the problem was in the packaging, because I'm not to everyone's tastes - nor should I be.
|Commission by Sabrina Salamon|
TL; DR? Summing up... if you're looking for external validation, ask yourself why. If the reason is tied into a project you're doing, try to target someone more specifically, or maybe take a break to get some perspective.
However, if the reason isn't tied to anything specific, trust me, you don't need anyone else to legitimize your writing, or whatever it is you're doing that makes you happy. It's worthwhile. Keep at it. If it helps to hear it, I believe in you.