Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Genesis of Writing

Last night, I went to see Genesis in concert. They sounded phenomenal. They looked great (particularly Tony, but Phil and Mike looked good as well, I thought). Hubby said Phil looked like a Nosferatu. I didn't agree until he bent down and hollered "ha ha HAH" into the light of a camera during "Mama", and his visage appeared on the ginormous screen. From that particular angle, he looked a lot like Grandpa Munster. Who was, after all, one of the Nosferatu. So.

By now, you're probably wondering what's up with the title of the post. Well, here's the thing. Being at the concert was good and all (more on that to come), but thinking about the concert has brought me to recognize something in a different way.

Abraham Lincoln was correct. Or rather, my bastardization of his quote is correct. You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not please all of the people all of the time.

Now, the two drunken idiots to the left of us and their slutty spouses were very pleased all night; they moshed and air-drummed and hooted and seemed to think it incumbent on them to stand up the entire time because, evidently, it was a tribute to the band. Or Phil would've stopped singing if they sat down. Or something. Although this did not stop them from many trips for beer. Still, they were some of the people that were pleased all of the time. (Really, this is going somewhere -- hang in there.)

And ALL of the people in the auditorium were pleased when they did mega-hits like "Invisible Touch" and "Throwing it All Away" (one of my personal favorites). Even the rather blasé looking couple at the end of the row to my right stood and swayed and smiled and cheered. So, one can in fact please all of the people some of the time.

But. And this is the real truth -- you cannot please all of the people all of the time. This was glaringly evident during "In the Cage," when the majority of the audience sat down, and an extraordinary percentage left for food, beverages or the restrooms. (I met a woman in the latter destination, and she said that the name of the song should be "gotta take a piss", so clearly not all fans were pleased all the time.)

This inability to please everyone was evident during songs such as "Home by the Sea", which started as you'd imagine to great approbation, and then seemed like it was going to end as it should (again, to some applause . . . only it didn't actually end, so the applause sort of smattered out and folks slowly sank into their seats and began to chat with their neighbors). Turns out that it morphed into a ten-minute EP-version jam session that became tedious to all but the some-who-were-pleased-all-the-time. It's not that Genesis was playing badly -- they were, in fact, playing extremely well. It's not that the crowd didn't like Genesis: if anything, most of the folks appeared to be fairly big fans, judging from depth of knowledge, levels of enthusiasm and numbers of $45 T-shirts. The crowd loved the band, the band was playing well, but this particular musical segment (like much of "In the Cage") was met with ennui.

I believe this is a valuable lesson to writers and other creative types. Because there are some folks who "get" you and your style, and will love everything you do -- this includes some percentage of editors out there in the world, and critics, and whatnot too. And there are some times when one thing you've created wins acclaim from nearly all sources -- maybe it's a major book award or contest win, maybe it's a unanimous "send that out!" from your critique group; but it happens, and we all know it. But by and large, one shouldn't expect that everyone will always like a particular creation. Opinions are, in fact, like belly buttons -- everyone has one. Consequently, there will be parts of what you've written that folks take issue with. It does not mean, however, that you suck -- your writing could be brilliant, your story just fine, your character development better than adequate, etc. Some people will still find that a particular work is not their cup of tea.

Take, for example, my mother-in-law, who is a huge Neil Gaiman fan. She loves Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods (oh how she loves American Gods!) and Anansi Boys. She was only "meh" about the short story collection, Fragile Things. Most of them weren't her cuppa. And don't even get her started on Coraline -- she thinks it's too scary for kids, and didn't finish it herself. (I disagree, but again, tea and bellybuttons, right?)

To recap: Not every reader, whether it's your spouse or another relative, a friend, a critique group, an editor, end readers or critics, may like your work. Let me repeat this bit -- it doesn't mean you've done anything wrong or that you suck. Bellybuttons.

Speaking of which, stop gazing at your bellybutton and get to work. Because there are at least some who are waiting to read it, and you don't want to leave them where they are right now, air-drumming with their drunken buddy and wishing for something better to do.

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