Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Just Ask

There's nice and considerate, and then there's me.  Not only am I nearly incapable of saying no, I generally prefer to gnaw off an appendage sans anesthetic than ask for a crowbar to pry open the trap.  On the rare occasion that I do make a request of others, I obsess over the language and presentation of said request to the brink of madness.  Maybe it's partly my upbringing.  I can't recall ever seeing my parents ask anyone for anything.  Maybe it's my independent/competitive spirit.  I like to be right.  I like to win.  On my own.  End of story.

But here's the thing: Asking for help isn't always a bad thing.  Sure, being the leech who perpetually feeds off the talents and generosity of others is never where you want to be.  But sometimes, people are just waiting for someone to ask them for assistance.  They want to serve others.  They find it fulfilling and edifying.  And sometimes, you just need help.  There are some things that you simply cannot do on your own.

Here's one: Writing/publishing.  I don't care if you're a Pulitzer prize-winning author; somebody read your shitty first drafts.  Even if they didn't have dedicated draft readers or workshops or writing groups, they had editors and agents.  Lots of people had to read their writing before the public at large got even a first glance.

I'm lucky.  I have a dear friend who also happens to be an amazingly gifted writer.  We swap manuscripts and critiques.  It's one of my most treasured relationships.  But there's still a gap.  My friend sees my work in multiple stages of draft and revision, and I have a short story that is (I hope) reaching the end stages of revision, and I need somebody to read it who hasn't seen it in all its previous permutations.  And this is a recurring problem for me.  Ever since completing my MFA, I've battled a paralysis resulting from the loss of paid faculty mentors.  Who reads your work when you're no longer in school?  I need someone I can really trust, whose writing I admire, and who won't feel the need to be kind or precious about my feelings when reading my work.  I've been left with one option, but for the past three years, I've avoided it.

Back to my very best friend.  Her literary talents are not the only thing that makes her wonderful.  There are so many other ways in which she is nothing like me, my near opposite in countless ways.  One area in which we differ is her complete willingness to talk to/write to/ask questions or favors of anyone.  She is fearless.  There are areas of my life where I might be considered fearless (if you squint really hard and completely ignore the definition of that word), but this is not one of them.  I operate on the assumption that I am always bothering someone.

So fast-forward to yesterday.  I was tapping away at my revisions while sipping hot chocolate at B&N. It was a lovely, peaceful morning.  (We won't get into my hellacious afternoon and evening.  Ah, parenthood.)  But I couldn't stop thinking about the next step for my current story-in-progress.  I want to start sending it out, but I'm at the point now where I can't tell what, if anything, it is missing.  I'm just too close to it.  Is everything working, or am I just deluding myself?  It's a common thought pattern for me.  But yesterday was different.  When concerns began to plague me, I pulled up the email app on my Mac and started typing a message to one of my professors from undergrad, a woman who is a talented writer and who I consider a friend, and -- get this -- asked if she would be read my story once her semester is over.  And of course, being the gracious person she is, she said yes.

Was this really so hard?  The short answer is, "Yes.  Yes, it was."  But I did it.  Did I analyze and obsess over the content and wording of the email the second I clicked "send"?  Absolutely.  Was it worth is?  I think so.  I need this help, and I need to ask for it.  I may not yet be up to my friend's level of intrepidity, but I am a work in progress.  Just like my story.

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