Nobody wants to watch you flagellate yourself

(OK, fine, I lived in NYC, I realize that there are people who DO want to watch you flagellate yourself. But there aren't very many of them, and do you really want to encourage that sort of thing?)

There is a comedic television show I recently discovered, and I liked it so much that I got the DVDs, in no small part because I wanted to watch the commentary and get some insight into how such a delightful show was created. And I thought that the show would likely have decent commentary because it was created, written, and directed all by the same guy, who was also the guy doing the commentary. Sounds promising, right?

But, no. Nooooo. Nonononono. Turns out that this guy is one of these self-flagellating writers, the sort who has decided that the best way to head off any criticism about his work is to hate every last aspect of it with a virulent passion himself. And apparently I am a stupid asshole with absolutely no discernment whatsoever, because if I had any, I would never have liked the show--in fact, the fire of my loathing for that show would have immolated the very Earth itself.

Seriously, do you think that sort of thing is pleasant to listen to? Not only did I come out of it feeling like my taste had been repeatedly insulted, but I felt really horrible for anyone who has to work with this guy. There's one scene containing this priceless bit of physical comedy, and he shuts up to watch it for about a second, and then he screams because (brace yourself) there's a poster on the wall in a funny place.

Given that kind of supportive workplace atmosphere, I'm amazed the entire cast and crew didn't commit suicide.

I've seen this sort of thing before--people being unrelentingly negative about their work--and it's always extremely unpleasant. There's no point to it: If I like the work, it's insulting and depressing, and if I don't like the work, it doesn't help to listen to someone beat themselves up about it. (For example, I didn't care for that fellow's commentary, but when he started whinging on at the end about how awful his commentary was, shockingly enough that didn't change my opinion about it.)

Of course I go through periods of feeling like I can't produce anything good--in fact, that happens reliably whenever I'm about to release a work. But I know what that is, so I don't wallow in it. And I especially don't wallow in it in public.

Why not? Well, for one thing, I obviously don't like reading or listening to that sort of thing, so I'm not going to impose it on others. But the other thing is that I have sense of purpose about this blog--this blog is to help writers.

To my way of thinking, it's helpful to say, "Yes, I made a mistake and am learning from it, or I'm unhappy with this part of the book and have to fix it, or I'm nervous and it's affecting my judgement," because everyone deals with that--and I think it's important for writers to realize that it's normal to do things like make mistakes or suddenly doubt the worth of your entire output. These things happen, you deal with them, and then you move forward.

Acting like it's the end of the world--"This is imperfect!!! AIIIIGGGGGHHHH!!! MY ENTIRE LIFE'S WORK IS RUINED!!!!! RUINED!!!!!!!!! MY DREAMS ARE DESTROYED!!!!!!!!!"--is supremely unhelpful, both to me personally and to anyone reading this blog who might be influenced by it. And you do have to think about how your words will affect others: I never want to do to anyone what William Shawn did to Jospeh Mitchell. Writers are dramatic and perfectionistic enough without my adding fuel to the fire....