Goodbye and Good Riddance

I’ve made a comfortable living as a writer. I sold my first piece forty years ago and I’ve done fine ever since.

I was living in the mountains when I received my first acceptance. Of course, everything was done by mail in those days. Mail and fax. I lived ten miles from the nearest store or telephone, which suited me. They say that one of the major drawbacks to writing is loneliness, but I like being lonely.

Unfortunately, as my reputation increased, I allowed myself to be lured down to the big city. I rented a loft and furnished it, acquired friends, acquired a husband. No more loneliness. What worked best for me in the city was writing in the morning, drinking in the afternoon, and sobering up in the evening.

In the mountains, I never read newspapers or magazines. I never watched TV or went to the movies. The Internet hadn’t been invented yet, thank God. I read books and essays, fiction and nonfiction, but nothing written later than 1950. My own work sold; that was enough for me. Life was good.

In the city, I discovered that readers had opinions about what they read. They were judging my work and I found out about it. They had always been judgin my work. I just never knew it.

I also discovered that the average reader is a knucklehead. Take this personally, please.

Try as I might, I could not avoid the critics, professional and amateur. I didn’t need to read reviews, or my mail. Every visit to my publisher exposed me to comments on my work. Formerly, I sent off a piece and let the editor have his or her way with it, me being none the wiser. As long as the checks kept arriving, I had no problem with that. Now, I couldn’t go to a party and get drunk in peace. Some moron would spoil the evening every time by cawing at me about something I had written.

I don’t criticize your work, or your face; don’t criticize mine.

My husband wasn’t a reader, so at least I didn’t have to contend with his opinions, which were bound to be of the bonehead variety. Along with his paycheck, he would bring home what he was pleased to describe as “feedback” from his friends, and share it with me at dinner. This is one of the reasons we quit eating our meals together. In fact, this might have been the principle reason I divorced him, this along with his swinish habits between the sheets (when I could manage to keep that top sheet in place).

“Where’s the dialog? Not enough dialog,” the critics would say.

“So is this enough dialog for you? Because this is all you’re bloody well going to get.”

Your paragraphs are too long, the critics

would say. Is this short

enough for you, Mr. Expert?

And my competitors! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, my competitors. Their story plots. Pre-Hawthorne, and not in a good way. Treacle. Always, in their stories, the fond family memories, the memories of their youth, always the brother or the dad, memories of the death of some friend or family member. Unutterably mawkish, turgid prose, and always, always the snappy last line. Jame Joyce? Marcel Proust? Sorry. Not enough dialog. Paragraphs too long. Too hard to read. Depressing.

Did I hit a competitor or two? With the knuckles of my fist, I mean. Only the males. Socking a male is OK. If I ever took on another woman, the tussle would have been labeled a cat fight, the subject of derision. I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.

Why have I decided to return to the mountains? Was it the incident with “Mr. Smith”? Perhaps. Let’s just say that my final problem with Mr. Smith provided the straw that broke my creative back.

If you publish at this site, or just read the work here, you have undoubtedly been gifted with Mr. Smith’s wisdom. I know I was, right from my advent in the big city. In fact, he was critiquing my work before I left the mountains; ignorance is bliss.

Every time I put out a story or other piece, Mr. Smith was there to provide comments, asked for or not. I found Mr. Smith showing up when I was at lunch in public, and when I was trying to think as I walked in the park, and at parties. I could not drink at a bar in peace.

Was he stalking me? Such was my defense at the trial. Did I have a license for my gun? In the mountains, everyone carries a gun. How was I to know that the big city was different? Such was my defense. Did Mr. Smith threaten me physically? Did he touch me? Or was I simply reacting to the accumulation of his various banal, wrongheaded analyses of my work’s content and methods?

And why did I shoot him “down there”?

In retrospect, I should not have chosen to defend myself. I thought that by the time the trial was held, I would have thoroughly purged the Smith toxins from my brain. I had no idea that hearing repeated quotes from his critiques would cause me to leap to my feet, rush the man, and with my iPad used as a club, re-injure those parts of him that I had shot before.

During my incarceration, I came to realize that Mr. Smith actually stood for all of you, you and your opinions. That’s when I decided to hang up my pen.

Reader, I reiterate: take this personally. You wouldn’t know a good story if it hit you between the eyes. You are incapable of appreciating fine, or even decent, or even workmanlike, writing. Who knows what is going on in that little noggin of yours. I don’t, and I don’t want to. I leave you to those hacks who seem to think that they’re actually writing stories; they aren’t.

And that’s it. I’m done being read by you and your kind. Go plague somebody ignorant enough to appreciate your… your “feedback.” Somebody like my ex.

Goodbye and good riddance.

7 Responses

  1. Thank you for the salt.
    I very much enjoyed this read.

  2. does this really mean you’re throwing in the towel? or are you just going to stop publishing? “A writer writes…always.” That’s one of my favorite inspirational quotes. don’t exactly know where it came from but I first heard it in “Throw Momma From The Train,” a great, old movie with Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito playing frustrated, would-be wordsmiths. I don’t believe for a minute that you’ll stop writing. You can’t…it’s in your genes. As a long-time writer, you probably learned long-ago that critics are just assholes who don’t have the balls to be original. “Don’t let “them” win” is another favorite line of mine from a great old song called “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House.
    For Chrissakes, don’t dream it’s over.

  3. One more: whenever some jerk would take me to task for a bad screenplay I’d written or a dumb story I tried out, I would just eat their shit politely and let them exhaust themselves. The I would ask them one question that always shut ‘em up: “Where’s yours?”
    Meaning, of course, where’s your attempt to be original, to break the rules, to fly in the face of convention and any other cliche that works that I can’t think of right now. Surrender is death to a writer. Being a writer requires that you maintain a high level of self-delusion in the face of criticism and rejection. it might be the only profession where “delusional” is a good word. I’m VERY delusional…as you might guess from my various postings…and I’m damn proud of it. I made a small fortune as an obscure H’wood writer. That’s gone but I write more than ever now. Essentially, to me, writing is this: you just keep throwing shit at a wall until something sticks. Again, the evidence can be found at my site. I’ve finally gotten to a place in life where I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks of me or what I do. I’m broke but I feel healthier in the head….which might be the biggest delusion of ‘em all. Mark Twain said something to the effect that, when you accept the fact we’re all mad, everything falls into place.” Something like that… Seems more appropriate in this modern world than ever, methinks.

  4. If a reader approved and appreciated every word you wrote, you would be bored. However, “just enough criticism and disagreement to be interesting” is very difficult to calibrate. I presume that the makers of aritficial intelligence programs are working on the problem. I envision a gauge with a mark that shows “just enough.” Above the mark it says, “Narcissim alert!” Just below the mark it says, “You die, unappreciative scum!” I am guessing the mark would be around 95% for most of us.

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