pages in the mail

On the same day that my friend Sippin takes a big step toward bringing a creative dream to fruition (he’s got a serious artist working on a comic he wrote with a couple friends last year) I receive in the mail a stack of pages from an old acquaintance who appears to be writing some kind of manifesto of love (it’s got a life-coach kinda vibe) and while I’m flattered that people wanna send me their incomplete writing projects for criticism, it’s putting me in a bit of a spot.

I’ve done this for friends and acquaintances a few dozen times in the past ten years or so and I don’t think five percent of them have actually finished the project they showed me. What happens is I’ll take an house or two to read and annotate their five- or fifteen- or thirty-page document, I’m as encouraging as possible, and this, weirdly, seems to be what kills it. They write a portion of the thing they envisioned, they hand it off to somebody whose judgment they appear to respect (I guess that’s me, which is nice), and then, whether I say it’s terrific or that it needs a lotta work, they don’t really seem to care.

What matters to them is that the thing they’ve made has been seen, recognized, appreciated.

But I think any creative project of formidable size, whatever the passion of its creator, reaches a point (usually somewhere around the middle) where the passion wavers, and discipline has to fill the gaps. The artist needs a routine. Dedication. The thing you’re creating becomes this invisible sky-monster to whom you’ve gotta start surrendering long bouts of deep, angsty, prayer-like thought and sacrificing shit (time and relationships, mostly) on what was once a desk or canvas but now feels like an altar.

I think this is the point where my friends give up on stuff and send it to me.

And that’s fine with me. I do wish they were more serious about it, that they would do the work for the sake of the work instead of a quick hit of praise; but, failing that, I’m happy to do the job of the friendly neighborhood writer who walks in and gently euthanizes their project with a deluge of praise and suggestion.

Because, again, these projects don’t seem to by dying because I’m critiquing the work, or laying on so many suggestions that the writer loses hope. I think it’s because the thing they’re looking for is a quick back-and-forth where, for a moment, their imagination is taken seriously.

But it can bother me sometimes when, with so much to do for my own Project (which, true to form, is at this point, on a good day, 60% discipline, showing up, and 40% passion), I make it maybe a quarter of the way through an acquaintance’s novel- or memoir-in-progress and see that they clearly aren’t going to finish this — usually because there’s no set-up in the opening pages, it’s all payoff, all action and clever remarks and sex; either that or, in the autobiographical stuff, you can see they’re just settling scores, rattling off conclusions, pontificating; they’re starting off at a sprint that won’t carry them farther than twenty pages before they burn out. It’s the literary equivalent of really angry sex. Passion is a flash, a burst. It accomplishes very little on its own. It’s the pepperoni on a pizza. Everything else is work ethic.

But I’ve talked a lot about Kevin Smith lately and one of his big rallying cries is about the importance of encouraging artists. He’s always saying there’s way more insult and heartbreak out there than postiivity and that you could do worse things in your life than give a kind word to a struggling artist. Will all of them take that goodwill and use it to create a masterpiece? Of course them. Most of them probably won’t create anything at all.

But does that mean you shouldn’t encourage and support them, just because you suspect they won’t finish it?

And let’s say they don’t finish it, but they’d still like for you to take a couple hours to have a look at it. Is a creative venture only enriching and worthwhile if it’s carried to completion? Is every romance a waste of time if it didn’t end at the altar?

What I’ve done a couple times now is tell people, when I’m really tied up, that I’ll read their work when they’re finished and then buy them a drink afterward and talk it over with them. Sometimes they agree to that, and I never hear about the project again, but sometimes they press on, saying they don’t know where to go from here, they’re in a bind, really need some help…

Anyway. I’m being weirdly edgy about dealing with this lately and I think it’s a manifestation of this thing I’ve always read about — and it’s been catching my attention more often lately — which is a hypersensitivity about time: racing against it, using it wisely, etc. Sounds pretentious but I’m definitely beginning to bump my head against the not-enough-hours-in-a-day thing.

So I’m five pages into this friend’s manifesto, and it’s well-written and I’m happy with him for writing it, but I also don’t know where it goes from here. Do I give exhaustive feedback? How much time should I devote to it if I’m 90% sure he’s never gonna touch or look at it again?

Under what circumstances do I deny people my time? Is my time more valuable than their feeling of empowerment at having written something that was taken seriously?

Anyway. I know what’ll end up happening is I’ll do whatever they ask and then just seethe quietly and hate myself whenever I feel like the day’s been wasted. But still, it’s an interesting conundrum to noodle about.

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