As I read posts and talk with writers, I find striking similarities in the need for outside affirmation. We all write because we're driven to write, but there is beyond that a step that we cannot take by ourselves. In order to be comfortable with calling ourselves writers, we have to be accepted by Others, be it agents, editors, or readers. Just writing isn't enough, at least not for long.

When I started writing, it was for myself. I wanted to tell a story, not an important one, but one that circled my brain, getting in the way of everything else, until I put it on paper. One might think that was enough: I had a good job, a happy homelife, and no need for extra income (even if writing were a money-making venture). But just writing the story wasn't enough. I had to share my work, get another human being's reaction.

The shy desire to know if one's work is "good enough" affects us all. Some, copying Ben Franklin, devise clever ways to anonymously gauge their worth as writers. Others bypass the critiquing process of the industry and self-publish, appealing directly to readers and hoping to be wildly successful. Most of us depend on the traditional publishing system to give us a clue as to where we fit on the continuum of writing quality. It's not a great system, to be sure, but oh, what a relief when someone says, "You know, this is pretty good. We'd like to publish it."

Next comes the public. Will they like it? Will they buy it? Will they buy the next one? Of course you get a gamut of reactions from "I loved it; when will the next one be ready?" to a tiny, polite comment and a shift of subject. I'm okay with that. Even Charles Dickens has his detractors.

Some readers choose something totally off the wall to focus on. I had one complaint that Lady Macbeth's name (Gruoch) is too diffucult to pronounce and therefore made the book unreadable. (Sorry, that was her name.) Another person skipped the whole reading thing and informed me that my author photo looks "unnatural." Then there are acquaintances who don't want to admit I've written a book. They make almost ludicrous moves to avoid talking about the subject, apparently in fear that I will try to force them to say how brilliant I am, report on the plot (I was once a teacher, you know), or worst of all, buy it. It's okay, people. I don't expect you to haul your washing machines to the coffee shop and peddle them, so I will use that same common sense when marketing my books.

The need to have others view what we create leads us to strange places, sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, but art is subjective. Each of us has the right to an opinion. For example, Rembrandt's NIGHT WATCH, a painting of breathtaking beauty, was rejected by the subjects who'd commissioned it. It wasn't what they liked, what they expected. All that work, all that talent, and no appreciation from those he created for.

You have the right to an opinion, but you have the right to keep it to yourself as well. I know I'm no Rembrandt. I wrote a book that someone published. I love it when a reader says, "I read straight through your book; couldn't put it down." But if you choose to say, "I bet writing a book takes a lot of effort," and let it go at that, I can live with that too.

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