My Drug and My Vice

Feedback hits my veins
Smack for my ego, mainlined
I close my eyes, sigh

I wrote this haiku over the weekend, fueled as I was then by a steady stream of positive feedback for my writing and after a really great response to the Whatcom Writes reading on Sunday. But like any good addict knows, that euphoric feeling fades fast without a continual infusion.

I managed to ride the wave for most of the week, getting by on a steady stream of Facebook likes and occasional comments, but on Friday I hit bottom.  Two months ago I sent out some queries to a handful of agents and within days one agent requested I send sample chapters of my memoir. This is it, I thought. I’m golden. I worked feverishly for a week to put some high polish on a few of the better chapters and sent them off into the ether. I tried hard to stay in the moment but really, who among us writers doesn’t live at least part of the time on that fantasy book tour? On the bestseller list in our own heads? I’m a legend, if only in my own little monkey mind.

Things came crashing back to earth for me on Friday when the agent got back to me with a kind and generous email indicating that perhaps my pages aren’t quite ready for primetime. Honestly, I can’t say that I wasn’t expecting this—I know the odds. We all do, when we sit down and dare to think we have a hope of seeing our words in print. The statistics are depressing, but still, we dream.

This crash, this bursting of my ego and the view from down here at the bottom set me to thinking about how fortunate we are now, though, as writers. We have an audience if we want one. We don’t have to toil in obscurity—relative obscurity, maybe, but not completely. We have communities that welcome our imperfect work, places where we can get our hits and fixes, venues even if they are of our own making.

I started wondering, though. What was it like as a writer to wait months and months for feedback on a piece of writing? Or to not get any at all? Imagine—writing something, spending a few hours, or weeks, months, years, on a piece and then just . . . doing what with it, exactly? Sending it to an agent or publisher and then waiting for a single letter to come by post. No instant gratification. No thumbs up or down within minutes. I suppose after a week or so trips to the mailbox might become something like obsessively checking Facebook within a few minutes of posting a particularly witty comment or status update. The worn path to the mailbox might have been a little like the iPhone-shaped silhouette on my back pocket—there because I want easy access to my inbox, the ability to quickly check my blog stats. My self-esteem rises and falls with the number of hits I get.

All of which leads me to ponder just how healthy it is, this continual trickle of sporadic feedback and my incessant need to check in on it. On the one hand, when the stream dries up a bit, we can just post something new. On the other hand, why? What’s my motivation? To continue the high or to hone my craft? I’ve been reading about B.F. Skinner and the behaviorists, operant conditioning—the key to operant conditioning is the immediate reinforcement of a response. Suffice it to say, I’ve been thoroughly conditioned by variable reinforcement. I feel a bit like a used lab rat, and the unpredictable rewards are messing with my monkey mind.  One day there might be these beautiful little gifts waiting when I press that lever, other days there’s nothing. Does the nothing keep me from pressing the lever? No it does not. The nothing makes me press the lever even more—there must be some mistake! Where’s my feedback? My next hit? I need my fix!

So. I enroll in a mindfulness class. I employ hypnotherapy and guided imagery. I run. I run and run and run. They say the endorphins produce a natural high. It doesn’t really compare, but there are 30, 40, 50 minutes a day where I’m away from the lever at least. And I’m getting healthier as a side benefit. I’m not sure I want to give up the drug, the high, the next hit long term, but I’m trying to get better at living in the moment and focusing on writing just because.

Oh hell. No I’m not. If I were, I’d not be posting this damn blog.  Hit me baby. Just one more time.

8 thoughts on “My Drug and My Vice

  1. sorry they didn’t like your memoir. We’ve all been there, but hey,here’s a hit, and from someone who’s never visited you before, so that must be double points?!!? agree, it’s totally addictive and, as you say, intermittent reinforcement has the most powerful influence on behaviour.

  2. L Well, what do they know!! So sorry, honey. But I know you will be published!! I am sure most of the famous authors we read had similar experiences at one time or another!! Persevere, don’t give up it will happen! I believe it will happen. I wish I was there to be with you but I am in spirit and I wish I could take away the pain. Love you so much!! Mother and Charlie, too

  3. Never mind waiting for feedback! I can’t imagine how people wrote books before computers. Before word processors. Before typewriters! All that great time-tested literature… how did they do it?

  4. Pingback: Monkey Mind, Monkey Run | Pamela Helberg

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