Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Knowing My Own Mind

There are times when I don’t know my own mind. Worse, there are times when I think I know my mind per­fect­ly well and then find an entire­ly dif­fer­ent mind on a lat­er vis­it to my opin­ions.

Which feels almost as though I have no mind at all.

Some time ago one of my favorite writ­ers came out with a new nov­el. I had been wait­ing for her next book for years, so, of course, I signed up to have it pop into my elec­tron­ic read­er at the first oppor­tu­ni­ty. It did, and I read it eager­ly.

I was dis­ap­point­ed. Pro­found­ly.

It wasn’t that the nov­el was bad­ly writ­ten. This author isn’t capa­ble of bad writ­ing. It was just that I didn’t care about the peo­ple she explored so deeply. And even know­ing their com­plex­i­ties, one lay­er exposed after anoth­er, didn’t make me want to spend time with them.

I didn’t have to wait near­ly so long for her next book. This time, though, I read it with cau­tion, with my new­ly acquired dis­con­tent. (Once burned.) This nov­el was … okay. But I wasn’t in love. I had been in love with her ear­ly nov­els. Besot­ted, real­ly.

Now anoth­er book is out. In a series of inter­wo­ven short sto­ries my once-favorite author explored many of the char­ac­ters from the pre­vi­ous nov­el, the one I didn’t dis­like but that had nev­er quite cap­tured me.

And before I had quite decid­ed to do so, I had fin­ished the lat­est offer­ing and gone back to reread the pre­vi­ous nov­el. The okay one. And I found myself reread­ing the book I had been so tepid about with new respect, even full-blown appre­ci­a­tion. Obvi­ous­ly, the book hadn’t changed on the page.

Next I intend to return to the first book that dis­ap­point­ed me. Will the change in me, what­ev­er caused it, now make room for that one, too?

As some­one who has for many years men­tored my fel­low writ­ers, I find myself won­der­ing. Is my opin­ion any more reli­able, any less emo­tion­al­ly based when I am eval­u­at­ing a man­u­script than it is when I approach a pub­lished nov­el?

When I cri­tique a man­u­script I always try, if I pos­si­bly can, to read it twice. Some­times a strong­ly held opin­ion from my first read­ing dis­solves on the sec­ond. When that hap­pens, I usu­al­ly trust the sec­ond read­ing. And, espe­cial­ly if it’s a long man­u­script, I rarely risk a third.

Is noth­ing in my mind sol­id, cer­tain? Are my opin­ions based on any­thing except emo­tion? Is all the log­ic in the world sim­ply some­thing I pile around me to jus­ti­fy my mood?

When I’m respond­ing to pub­lished work and the opin­ions I hold are only my own, the ques­tion is mere­ly a mat­ter of curios­i­ty. Some­thing to take out and won­der at in won­der­ing moments. How sol­id is this thing I think of as self with all its sup­port­ing frame­work of opin­ion?

When I’m respond­ing to a man­u­script-in-process, the ques­tion is one of pro­found respon­si­bil­i­ty. My opin­ion will impact anoth­er person’s work. And what if my response is, indeed, a prod­uct of my mood? What harm might I do to a piece of writ­ing in the name of help­ing?

The ques­tion is even more dis­con­cert­ing when I face my own work. Some days I am utter­ly con­fi­dent of this new nov­el I’m peck­ing away at. Oth­ers I’m equal­ly con­vinced that my entire premise is bogus.

I have long known that noth­ing impacts my writ­ing out­put more than my con­fi­dence. If I’m cer­tain that this piece I’m work­ing on is tru­ly good and I’m lov­ing writ­ing it, the words flow. (The true val­ue of what I pro­duce is a mat­ter for lat­er dis­cern­ment, my own and oth­ers.) When I doubt myself, each word arrives after a slog through mud.

How I wish there were a reli­able way to keep my writ­ing flow­ing, to keep my soul brim­ming with con­fi­dence.

Emo­tions are slip­pery, often hard to rec­og­nize and name, cer­tain­ly impos­si­ble to keep march­ing in a straight line, and yet I’m con­vinced this sup­pos­ed­ly log­ic-dri­ven world is more accu­rate­ly an emo­tion-dri­ven one.

It’s a scary thought!

2 Responses to Knowing My Own Mind

  1. Cynthia July 28, 2017 at 9:55 am #

    What an inter­est­ing expe­ri­ence. This has hap­pened to me, too– dis­ap­point­ment in a third or fourth nov­el by a favorite writer– but I’ve rarely gone back. While I was a work­ing librar­i­an, there wasn’t time. Now that I am “writ­ing full time” (aka, unem­ployed), I will give it a go. Thanks, Mar­i­on!

  2. Charles Ghigna July 28, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    Yes! “I’m con­vinced this sup­pos­ed­ly log­ic-dri­ven world is more accu­rate­ly an emo­tion-dri­ven one.” Thank you for this insight­ful look at the emo­tion­al mind of the read­er — and the writer! Well done!

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