The Power of Words
Alas, friends and readers had other plans for me. Some of the comments and tribute posts that followed the last chapter of AMC made me get all teary despite my promises not to. And it really made me stop and think of the power of words--simple letters and syllables--in our lives.
So I'm going to wax sentimental for a few minutes. Maybe I'll even establish a brief spell of coherence. We can hope. :) But I'm giving in to the urge because ten years from now, I might be jaded by writing again. I might look back at this entry and maybe it will remind me of how much I love this and how much words have changed my life.
Maybe I will let them change it again.
AMC seems an ambitious project: a 350,000-word novel following each member of the House of Feanor--and certain others as well--through an ordinary year of life in Valinor. But it didn't start ambitious. It started as a series of character studies where I was trying to achieve some sort of empathy and understanding for characters who are often reviled in fanfic. Honestly, I had simply read one too many evil!abusive!Feanor stories. I had seen one too many inexcusably, pure-'n'-simple evil Maedhroses...or Celegorms, Caranthirs, Curufins...take your pick. And I'd seen one too many wimpy Maglors.
I literally started AMC in the equivalent, for me, of a fit of rage.
Take that! I practically yelled on the page as I began to form the life and perception of a fifteen-year-old Tyelkormo who was far from evil and facing some conflicts that would change his life...and eventually place his feet upon the dark road that would lead to his undoing.
And AMC had begun.
Always, it was a story that I wrote for myself. I would spend hours a day on it once the warrants were run at work, often alone in the office, using the story to dull the loneliness and silence of a job that was taken less by choice and more by necessity. I took the characters in directions and took risks that I would not have taken had I written it with an audience in mind. The story, in this regard, is deeply personal in a lot of places. It was hard to keep those places, to share them with the public, even with friends. Honestly, I had to cut parts before I shared it. Not a lot, but there were demons that I worked out in this story, and I buried them when I cut them from the story, as though I could also cut them from my own life.
But, in a way, I did.
Sharing AMC was an accident, the product of a coincidence that makes me wonder if a single tiny detail was different, would I be writing this now? Or still an under-confident writer with a ginormous novel gathering dust on three floppy disks in my drawer at work? I saw others sharing stories; I thought, My AMC is at least as good. I can do that too! I had once loved writing and been honored for my work, won awards and even been published, but I had convinced myself that that "habit" was a part of my past and gone. Still, the urge is there, to tell a story, to move others with my words. And so I posted a chapter, did the necessary pimping with shaking hands, and waited.
Nothing happened, and I told myself not to be disappointed, but I was. I stopped waiting for feedback that I knew would never come because it hurt to hope.
Until I opened my email one day for an inncuous purpose, after a crappy Friday, and found a comment from enismirdal. Having never gotten an LJ comment before, I was baffled. I opened it and saw my own post staring back at me, and my heart plunged: Oh Gods, I had given up on this. I was okay with the idea that no one wanted to read my story, but I was frightened to think of harsh criticism of it. I had wondered if I even wanted to finish the story, a bitter reminder of why I had left the writing community in the first place.
But Eni was full of nice words and encouragement, and I walked on clouds for the rest of the weekend. She convinced me to post more and even told her friends, and others straggled into my LJ to read this story recently dubbed "AMC."
Eni had found AMC by sheer coincidence alone, not by any of the pimping posts I'd made around email lists. I'd recently changed my email from Yahoo to Comcast and so had to rejoin all of my groups under my new email and new Yahoo ID "dawnfelagund." (Before that, I was raven_dawn7, and I wanted all my hangouts to be under a single, uniform alias.) Because of this, I showed up as a new member on Silmfics, so when Eni went to contact new members with a question, she found me and my profile linking my LJ. And the last entry in my LJ was the first chapter of AMC. She read it and the rest, as they say, is history.
I think sometimes that if I'd gotten lazy and hadn't changed my email right away, AMC might still be moldering in a desk drawer at work, as I waited (hoped) for the disks to corrupt and my shameful, private scribblings to disintegrate forever. Instead, I found myself dusting off the story to meet the demands of readers who came with suggestions, yes, but were largely encouraging and did a frightened fledgling fanficcer a world of good.
The power of words: A single review gave me the encouragement to go on. Five minutes taken, and my life as a writer--my life as a whole--was changed.
Because I was past the point of "needing" AMC personally any longer. I'd unleashed the demons and confronted them and all was well. When I shared the story, it was with the hope that others would find a need for what I had to say, that I could be prompted--by peer pressure, yes--to finish it.
I hear people say sometimes that they don't care what reviewers say; they write for themselves. This is true, yes. I write for myself, which is why I rarely share stories until they are finished, to allow myself the freedom to write things that I need to write...and the right to delete them later. But no one posts stories for themselves. I'm sorry, but I can't buy that. We post stories in hopes of sharing whatever magic inspired our writing to reach someone else. The stories that pour out from beneath my fingers and the stories that I post can be quite different. I write for myself. I post for others.
So I wrote AMC for me. I posted it for you.
I hoped that the story, the intrigue, of the characters would touch my audience the way that they had touched me. The power of words: I have an emotion within me, and my challenge is to make you feel the exact same thing. And people say that they have wondered, cried, and sprayed soda on their monitors because of AMC. And no matter how many times I hear this, I am thankful. It worked! I want to cry out. For a moment, you shared a thought with me, there was a connection that I cannot claim to have with many in real life beyond my husband and my dearest friends.
Other times, it does not work, but on those rare instances when it does, it is bliss.
This time last year, I typed daily into my LJ and yet had not a single LJ friend. Now, I look at the people I have met: People with whom I've laughed and cried and spent hours talking to, exchanged gifts, who know my real name (or not), who have made me laugh and wonder, who have taken my thinking and my work in unexpected, new directions. I think: All this happened in nine months? How?
The power of words: most of my flist, I met in some way through AMC.
First comments from someone are always interesting. "Hi, I've been reading a while and I just thought I should tell you...."
Sometimes even: "I am sorry to bother you but I wanted you to know that...."
There is a sense of poking a bare foot into the surface of a pool: Will it be cold? And there is always the fear, expectation, that it shall.
I know because I have written those sorts of comments, to writers "too good to want to bother with someone like me." Or I've withheld comments on stories by authors (some now, embarassingly enough, on my flist!) who certainly don't need another gushing review from an eejit like me to know that they're good at what they do.
(In fact, being friends with some of these writers that I admired from a awe-filled distance, has proven them to be human! And just as susceptible to praise and criticism of their work as I am. Having known few writers in real life whom I truly admire, I admit that this was honestly astounding to me. Somehow, I thought that good writers, well...know that they're good.)
A friend once told me that she never expected a "writer like me" to take the time to respond to a random comment from a random reader. If only she knew! I thought. If only she knew the thrill, the honor, that I feel for every one of those comments!
Because a "writer like me" is still sometimes very underconfident in her work. That people think I am in such a league where I should be pompous is some sort of bizarre compliment! But also disheartening, because it implies what people who are told they have "talent" do with it.
I look at the start I was given: By a stranger taking five minutes to tell me that she appreciated my work. To encourage me.
The power of words: Through Eni's encouragement, I shared those words within me, to make people laugh and cry with me, to provoke discussions that still leave me awed and overwhelmed. Through sharing words with each other, we have communicated, and I count some of my online friends as dearer friends than many (most) of those in real life. Some of you have shared things with me that have left me grinning for the rest of the day, laughing at random instances for no reason, that have turned a bad day miraculously into good. How can that be? That mere symbols upon a page can say so much.
Do you know that I often read your comments with my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming with joy and laughter, to keep my boss in the next room from knowing what a nut I really am? (And he does know that I worte a 350,000-word novel at work in between running warrants, stats, and keeping the office in a semblance of order.) Or that I bug my husband weekly with gushing reports of how "this week's post went?" That was one of the first things that I said to him today, that the comments and tribute posts that I got made me so happy that I cried.
So many of you tell me that you wish you could be more meaningful in your comments about my chapters. And I always want to say to you, If only you knew how much what you just said--that you took the time to read and tell me that you did, that you connected, even for a moment, with my words--actually means!
So I hope that you all learn from this what I have: The next time you read a story and like what the author has to say, no matter how meaningless you think what you have to say to be, say it. Or if you have a story moldering on a disk somewhere, take a chance. What's the worst that could happen, in either case? Nothing. And you're no worse than you are now.
Or maybe your words will touch someone, turn a bad day to good, encourage a writer on the brink of giving up. Or maybe the person on the other side is the friend you've never met. I would dismiss this all as sentimental, idealist BS except that it happened to me. So I know it's possible.
By the power of words, it is possible.
To all of you who have read AMC--whether you commented or not--and to those who have commented and helped me and poked me from an angsty mass of nervous pudding into...well, a slightly-more-functional writer, who have given suggestions, found typos, lobbed plotbunnies; who have read my work and drawn a picture or written a story; who have answered questions and helped me with translations or Telerin music schools or canon (or fanon); who have challenged me or nudged me from a stupor and made me think...or made me laugh (or scream or cry or need a cold shower): Thank you! You have changed my life with your words.