The writing process can feel as though you're riding the waves of a stormy sea: one minute you're being tossed up into sunlight and warmth, the next being dragged down into the breathless dark, where you wonder if it's really worth the effort to fight your way back up again. You finish a project, feel on top of the world, feel like you've done something real this time and want to share it...but that feeling can't last. There's always a sort of postpartum downturn, when the gloss wears off and the seams show--or just because you come to the realization that you can't fully share that elation with anyone else in the world. No one fully understands what that story felt like to write and how you feel about having completed it.
Writing, perhaps more than any other creative activity, is often a lonely outlet. You don't see every reader, you don't know what every reader thinks, you rarely get feedback or even know how many people you reach. I'd guess this is a frustration for anyone who has ever composed a paragraph, from people posting on forums or listservs all the way up through best-selling authors. So often you pour out your heart and soul into your work, and it goes into a great blackhole: there's no way of knowing just where your words—all those pretty little lined up words you were so proud of—are going or what they're up to out there.
The Internet is a wonderful horrible place that compounds this issue many times over. Any Joe Schmo with a keyboard can now reach thousands of people—or more—with a few keystrokes. Oh, the power! But we have even *less* knowledge of who we're really reaching. Yes, there are such things as hit-counters, and some sites like Flickr and Scribd give you some vague numbers. But having those is perhaps worse. Watching a number go up without getting any comments or other feedback, you start to think, “Who are all you people???” And you wonder, do people not comment because they have nothing nice to say?
I think these things, despite knowing how many blogs I cruise on a daily basis without ever commenting. In the typosphere, there aren't many blogs I don't follow continuously, but a lot of the time I feel like I have nothing worth contributing, or as if the writer has already said all there is to say, and I wouldn't have anything to say aside from, “Right on!” which seems kinda lame, honestly. (That said, I treasure every “Right on!” I get on LFP, even while I—DuffyMoon-like—sometimes question the sincerity of the Right-on-ians...)
And then, feedback is just one piece of the puzzle. The truth is that the writing process itself is a matter of ups and downs. Some days you love what you're writing and think it's actually pretty good. Some days you hate it. Some days it just seems so pointless that you can't muster up anything as strong as like and dislike. The never-ending instability of it all can drive you crazy. I can understand only too well why so many authors and poets have led troubled lives, many with unhappy endings.
This month, I've been rereading bits and pieces of St. Therese's autobiography, Story of a Soul. She is someone in whom many of us, regardless of religious beliefs or lack thereof, would find a kindred spirit. She talks a great deal about her struggles with desiring the approval of others and the anxiety that can bring, as well the ups and downs that one experiences in spiritual life, when at times you feel nothing but dryness, unable to pray or concentrate: very much mirroring what we may feel in other areas of our lives. Without putting words in her mouth, I think I can say that the trick is to accept the “consolations” when they come—those moments when an encouraging word or a burst of creativity lifts us to those glorious heights—without clinging to them too hard, treasuring them in retrospect without expecting them as the norm; and to take the difficult moments as just a part of the path rather than the end of it all, knowing that the next bend may bring another breathtaking vista.