Writers need a better gauge to tell how their doing. A little over five years ago, when I embarked on this journey to become a creative writer, it was like going to college. There was a great deal of activity but I didn't feel like I was getting anywhere.
Now that some of my short stories are published, I'm getting the feeling I should be assuming the mantle of accomplishment, but I haven't. It's the role of being the child on bring your kid to work day and you sit at an empty desk and kind of scribble on a piece of paper presuming you are doing what everyone else is doing and you show it around to all of your parent's co-workers and they nod and smile and say how good your work is but only because they have to. In the end, weeks later when you are doing something else, you realize they were all just patronizing you because they had to and that feels pretty bad. I'm getting that same impression now, like I've written millions of words through the years and a few of them got nods of approval but none of that makes me a writer.
Seriously, how do I know that I'm on the right track?
What I'm wrestling with right now is not at all unlike the perils I went through as a single father. You keep your kid clean and fed, most of their homework gets done, and they don't speak some feral language of barks and growls they make up when lying in bed at night wondering why mommy left, but does that make you a good parent? The son I rose on my own will be going to college next year, having achieved a 30 ACT score, which they tell me is pretty good. He's a good looking kid who stays out of trouble and is charmingly shy around girls. Having churned our a good child is wonderful for the world at large, but does that make me a good parent? Some would say yes. I'm not so sure.
I used to be a radio DJ in Waukegan, Illinois, at WXLC-FM. Being the young kid fresh out of college, I did a lot of fill in and overnight work in the pre-smartphone-internet-satelite-tv-days of the early 1990's. When I would pull a Saturday night overnight that would end Sunday morning, I would be hard to wind down. At 5AM I'd walk to my car and feel wide awake in complete contrast to the deathlike silence that enveloped the world around me. No cars on the street, no stores open, not even a preacher on his way to church yet, Just me wondering if I did a good show and if anyone cared. Radio geeks will tell you about the ionosphere that surrounds the earth and how at night it acts kind of like a mirror, allowing AM radio frequencies to travel much farther than they do in the daytime. Using this phenomenon to clear my mind, I would start my car and try to find an AM radio station as far from me as possible to listen to on the way home. One particular early morning, I caught onto a station somewhere in Tennessee. It was a religious themed call-in show, and being a Sunday morning one hour ahead in time, was quite lively. A preacher of some sort was answering various listener's questions about the Bible and God, while spinning his own evangelical charm through the airwaves. Then a woman called with an uncharacteristically philosophical question.
She asked, "How do I know when I have made the changes I need to make to be a good Christian?" Now mind you, I'm a Catholic and such a question never cropped up in my mind. We go to church, give a little more at Christmas and Easter, and keep our questions to ourselves. Simple enough was my background that I couldn't wait to hear what the popular pastor had to say in response, and his answer remains to this day. He told the woman, in a syrupy southern accent that sounded like his studio was in a log cabin on top of a mountain, that what made her a good Christian was that she asked that question and always tried to make herself better.
Brilliant and depressing.
Equated into my life, I am a good Catholic if I keep asking how can I be better, I'm a good parent if I keep asking how can I be better, and I'm a good writer if I keep asking myself how I can be better.
Let's try that on for size.