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!