(A while back I found my literary muse, Hank. He shows up every now and then, but I'm not sure he's much help. But then, how much should I expect from a figment of my imagination?)
"I'm a comment junkie."
Hank took my confession in a college-town coffee shop. He did not seem surprised. But he did study the froth on his cappucino with suspicion before answering me.
"I don't think milk should be made to do this," he said.
I rolled my eyes. I should have known better than to have him meet me here -- he's a Cozy burger and Sonic kind of guy. He spends a lot time in an aging RV plastered with bumper stickers for tacky tourist destinations. But one can't be choosy about one's literary muse. Besides, he's a figment of my imagination.
But figment or not, I needed to talk about this, so I approached the subject from a different angle.
"Did you see my last story in Infuze?"
"Of course. I think you submitted it before it was finished."
"Did you see the comments?"
"Exactly. And it's bothering me a lot."
"It bothers you that no one commented on a story that probably wasn't your best work?"
"Actually, I think the fact that it bothers me is what's really bothering me."
Hank gave me a blank look. My husband gives me that look sometimes -- usually when I've taken a conversational left turn without signaling. Not a good sign.
"Look," I said. "I know I shouldn't be writing for the praise of men. But lets face it, if I didn't want people to read my stories, I wouldn't submit them. So I like to know that something in the story worked for someone. But when there are no comments or feedback of any kind, I don't know that. So it bums me out. And then I'm reminded that I shouldn't be so wrapped up in getting praise from others anyway. So that bugs me even more."
"I think in some circles the very fact that you've admitted you have a problem would be considered a good sign. But I'm not in those circles. You want me to be blunt or can I beat around the bush, like I usually do?"
"Be blunt. If I don't like your advice, I'll quit talking to you."
"Fair enough, though does that mean you'll quit talking to yourself? Never mind. I think part of your problem is that you're impatient. I think you sent that story before it was really ready. But even if it was the best you could do, your job is to write, not receive compliments. The writing life is full of disappointments and frustrations. You've read Bird by Bird, you've read On Writing. You know that even famous authors receive precious little feedback from readers. They write because they've got stories inside them that they want -- and need -- to tell. Nice words from readers are just a bonus."
"You're right, I know. I've always been a people-pleaser and it's hard to break out of that."
"You're a Christian, and you know the only audience that matters. Why don't you see what He says about your stories, instead of hanging around on the Internet looking for comments?"
"Yeah. But he knows even better than you do when I'm not doing my best."
"So what are you gonna do about that?"
"Write better. Be more patient. Push myself."
Hank started to get up to leave, his cappucino still untouched. "My work here is finished. You need to write a lot of words before November 30. Get busy."
I had one more question, though.
"Wait, I'm curious about something -- have you got a relative out in Oregon?"
"Yeah, a second cousin once removed or something, named after shrubbery. Weird kid. I stick to the Midwest, where people have normal names," he said. "And next time, let's meet at Sonic."