Surpassing Self Satisfaction

My students call me a fashion terrorist, but I’d like to disagree. Open up my wardrobe and you’ll see primarily earth tones. I’m huge fan of navy blue, brown, and gray. I know what I like, and I stick to it. Am I fashionable to others? Probably not. But I’d much rather feel comfortable in what I’ve picked out than what a magazine tells me would properly accent my eye color. The same goes for most other things in my life, too. I like a wide array of music: hip-hop, dubstep, instrumental, folk, indie, and even 90s music if I’m feeling nasty. I love everything Stanley Kubrick touched. Kathleen Graber is my favorite poet. Deadpool is my favorite comic book character. All of these come together to form a rich amalgamation of Steven soup, and, since I’m an aspiring writer, these influences come out in my writing. And just like everything else, I know what I like when it comes to my writing, but in this instance, it definitely matters what others think. Writing can’t be just what its author likes. It has to be more.

In my experience, most writers tend to like what they’ve produced. I know I do. I often read through my old stories and blog posts with a dreamlike sort of nostalgia that I’m sure only I enjoy. These pieces aren’t particularly good, but I still revel in coming back to them after months or years having been forgotten. When it comes to my own stuff, I’m pretty easy to please. I’ve been working on a set of poems for a few years now and recently decided to send a couple out for possible publication. I chose my two best poems that I’ve read countless times, ran the rhythm and alliteration and line breaks through my head until I felt confident that little else needed change. And then, of course, these poems were rejected. So the question that’s been on my mind is: How am I supposed to surpass my own satisfaction and produce something others will also enjoy?

About a month ago I printed off my recently finished novel. I put it in a manila envelope and it’s been sitting around my apartment. Without my knowledge, my wife took it with her to work on a day she had to teach only a couple of classes. At the end of the day I pulled up on my scooter to pick her up, and she came out with a big smile on her face. I didn’t know why. I assumed it was because of how cute my pudgy face looks in my monster of a helmet, but I was wrong. “You’re a good writer,” Kimmy said.

“What?” I replied.

“I’ve read your novel all day. I couldn’t put it down.”

Now, for a quick background on why this is especially significant, my wife is straight up brutally honest. I’ve handed her short stories that I’ve been in love with, and she’s had no problem setting me straight. She’s read my work and without hesitation has told me that it doesn’t work. She is my toughest critic and is the standard by which I’ve set the merits of my work. So standing there in the early evening sun, hearing her tell me, for the first time, that she very much enjoyed my writing was as surreal as any sweet dream that lingers with you even after you’ve waked.

Of course, my novel’s not been published, and the path to that destination will soon be traversed (hopefully successfully), but for the first time I’ve been able to create a piece that is more than something I can enjoy. My wife liked it, and that’s something special. It’s a small victory I’ll take, because it gives me just the burst of hope I need to push further toward my goal of publication.

Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.

3 thoughts on “Surpassing Self Satisfaction

  1. Interesting you should say that – I remember reading in Stephen King’s book, “On Writing” a suggestion that you should write with someone you love in mind as your audience. He wrote for his wife, too.

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