Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Big Mean Judge

I'd like to jump up and down and say I'm finished with the box of fifty books that arrived a while back, but the truth is that there's one more, very large book to go. Sigh. I just want to be finished. I've been judging a Writer's Digest contest and for some insane reason, I thought fifty books would be no problem. And it probably wouldn't have been except that it came precisely at the time when I received an e-mail from my agent letting me know I needed to turn in five 1/2 book proposals!

I felt like I got caught out in a thunderstorm.

And it's been so hard to write the critiques. How do you write commentary on a book that isn't really very good and the author is this little old lady. I don't want to be mean to a little old lady! So instead of saying the book isn't good, well I point out that they have a great title. And so on, to the point that I read over the critique and realize that it doesn't sound mean, it's actually encouraging, and should I be doing that??

You see, I've run into two huge problems while reading these books.

1) Most of the books have really nice endorsements from supposedly real people. Even the really bad ones!

So my artist temperament immediately begins to wring her hands. "If this person found someone to say nice things about her book, then what if all my books are horrible and everybody who knows me is just being nice. Just like I was with the little old lady."

I think it really does a disservice to people to tell them something is good when it's really dreck. But to be comletely honest - I'm not sure I could handle it! It's one thing to be told things could be stronger - I hope to keep growing as a writer my entire life. But "room for improvement" is a totally different concept from "this is really bad".

and 2) I really want people to like me. It's a disease really, and I could give you the whole long dysfunctional family version but since many of you probably suffer with the same thing, you can figure it out.

So even though these people will read my comments anonymously - I still worry about how I say things. I don't want them to label me The Big Mean Judge, or even worse, The Idiot who doesn't know what she's talking about. The little old lady I mentioned above? Well, my box actually had lots of books from little old ladies. And also a good bit from teenagers and one who had a website that made me seriously question her mental stability. I don't want to be the one to send her over the edge! I can't be the one to dash these people's big dreams - winning a major contest.

But just as there are people who should NOT be singing in a choir (me, included), there are people who should not be writing. At least not without some serious study under their belts. We can all improve, we can all grow...but we're not all cut out to write books.

And that brings me to my biggest fear of all...

What if that's me! I struggle with the idea that I am a writer, that God has called me to do it and has placed within me the ability to do it. I know I have a long way to go. I'm not delusional. But I realized something when I was walking around CBA and looking at the enormous posters and wall sized book covers plastering the place -I really just want the chance to keep writing. I realize that I may never have a bestseller. I can live with that. I realize I have lots of "room for improvement". I can live with that, too.

But I digress.

As I finish up with my "judge's commentary" I have the urge to put Good Try! or Way To Go! stickers across the top of the papers to soften any blow (I still have plenty left from teaching sceond grade). I think I'm going to retire from this though and sign up for a different program. Working with writers who are there to learn, not ones who think they already know it. It'll be easier on me, I think.

And probably them too.