I arrived at Kenyon College for a week-long writing conference. As I blogged yesterday, my thoughts going in were not very positive. When I arrived, it just got worse.
The writing prompt on our first day was “My worst decision…” It seemed easy to write about but the thought process led me down angsty alleys. It wasn’t so much that I was nervous about exposing my dumb-ass life, more so that it didn’t seem interesting writing to me. I wanted to do process writing for my book, Anori. That was the thing.
I was in a bad place when I listened to the readings by our workshop leaders that night. I thought about leaving the conference. I had nothing in me. It seemed utterly futile. I did write something eventually, but it was bad, a transcription of bland dialogue. I had someone read it who admitted that it was empty. My fears were confirmed. I would leave.
Then she made a suggestion for a framing device, which got me thinking. I thought about it as I watched a series of tornadoes blow that night and wrote in the morning, adding details like The Starfish Room, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and the bent peel coming a mini bottle of champagne bottle. It wasn’t that great, but it was something. And I wasn’t dead. Not yet.
I just reviewed the editor notes on my novel, Anori; which can be summarized thus: The book is not engaging. The reader has no reason to turn the page. There are major problems with the narrative structure, scene arcs, character and dialogue. None of it is working.
I called the editor today, hoping for some sort of clarity, a way to move forward.
“What can I do you for?” He was out of breath, a dog barking nearby.
“Oh yes, your book.” A door closed and another opened. “Any questions about my notes?”
There was a long pause. I thought about making the entire conversation like that, one long pause. It seemed to be what Andy wanted. “I am sensing acrimony.”
“Acrimony? No, Phed? Why would you say that?”
“Your notes, Andy.”
“My notes are not personal, Phed. They are questions the reader would have. I have no opinion on you, as a writer or a person.”
“Your notes are repetitively negative, Andy. It’s very unsatisfying, to put it mildly.”
“The notes are only my opinion. If the book is working in your head, then your book is working in your head. I won’t argue with that.”
“Look, Andy, I want to make the story work, obviously I want that, and I need criticism to move forward, but there is not one positive thing that you cited in the story.”
“I appreciate you put a lot of work into it, Phed.”
“That’s what I mean by unsatisfying comments, Andy. What is that supposed to mean to me? That you think I deserve a ribbon for putting work into it?”
“It’s poetic, isn’t it?” There was something else going on in the background, a coffee grinder or compactor. “I found your writing unsatisfying too.”
“What does that even mean, Andy?”
“Your choices did not satisfy me as a reader.”
I was close to hanging up. “Okay, for one thing, you cite over and over again how my dialogue does not work, that characters don’t listen to each other.”
“Looks like we have a real bowl of unsatisfying here.”
I didn’t know if ‘unsatisfying’ was supposed to be a joke. “You didn’t like any of the dialogue? None of it?”
“It isn’t about what I like, Phed. This isn’t about what I like.”
“It seems like you’re speaking German and I’m speaking Italian.”
“Your characters don’t listen to each other.”
“I’m trying to do something different, Andy. Literary Science Fiction. Story arc and character development don’t fall into the same expectations.”
“The reader has to want to turn the page, Phed. They have to be satisfied.”
“Thanks for the tip.”
“Like I said–“
“Yeah, I got it. It’s not personal. You’re just the reader’s eyes.”
The conversation went around like that until I got sick of it and hung up. The worst of it was that I paid him $3000 for that very service. Yes, I paid him $3000 to tell me that the reader will not bother to turn the page. And what’s worse – worse than worst – is that I paid someone else another $2500 to work on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for this blog, which created no traction and hence no results. And so I’m now out $5500 with no prospects for readers on the horizon in either medium.
And what’s even worse (worse than worse than the worst) is that my wife now tells me that nobody reads blogs anymore. And so what am I even doing here? Oh, and what’s worse than that (yes, worse than worse than worse than the worst) is that nobody bothered to even read to this point, due to my unsatisfying sense of narrative, scene arc, character and dialogue, and so clicked off long ago. (Although if you did stay, I humbly thank you, and will buy you a drink when we meet again.)