One of my favorite hobbies is singing. Not just in the shower, because everyone does that, but with the Alexandria Harmonizers. Well over 100 men strong, the Harmonizers sing everything from Broadway hits to Barbershop standards to modern pop. We have performed locally for the community as well as internationally. In 2012, we sang at the Concert Hall of the Forbidden City in China and on the Great Wall. In 2014, we traveled to Normandy to participate in the festivities commemorating the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. This coming April we are sharing the Strathmore stage with Kristin Chenoweth for Andrew Lippa’s “I Am Harvey Milk”*.
In no way is this meant to toot the chorus’ horn, but rather to provide an interesting comparison to my other passion: writing.
You see, singing and dancing on stage is immediately gratifying. It’s direct, real-time acknowledgement of your hours and months of preparation. You hear the applause. You know how many people experienced and enjoyed your art. Heck, you can SEE them. Ring a chord, bust a move, and you get instant feedback. It’s glorious and fulfilling.
More important, the jeers are usually drowned out or those that were unimpressed are too polite to boo in a crowd.
Writing is the exact opposite. The months, even years, put into a book results in delayed gratification. The moment your novel hits the shelves, you don’t get immediate feedback. You watch, you wait, and you wonder. How many people have read it? Did folks like it? Will someone come up to you at a writing convention years from now to talk about your book long after you’ve set that series aside? For many authors, there is a lag between when your book is released and when you get feedback.
To quote my Dragon Brother, “A performance is a meal you make for guests. A book is a tree you plant and walk away from.”
Granted, there are ways to track sales, either like I do with the Carina Press site or via royalty statements, but those are just numbers. Just because someone buys your book doesn’t mean they actually read it. Nor does it tell you if they enjoyed/despised it. The data is simply a black-and-white metric that is completely lacking emotion.
Reviews and ratings, however, help to fill that void. Sites like Goodreads, Amazon, and individual review/blog sites allow you to tap into the response of the audience. But even that is not immediate. People have to buy your book, then get around to reading it, THEN get around to rating or reviewing it. And unlike a stage performance, only a fraction of the audience responds.
Eventually you do get to hear the applause. You finally enjoy the praise.
Or you listen to the jeers.
So not only does writing force you to delay your gratification, but you also have to deal with the good AND the bad. Not every song the Harmonizers perform pleases everyone in the seats. But there’s a layer of insulation with the polite-audience-mentality that doesn’t exist in writing. Readers are individuals, so if they didn’t like your book, they are just as likely to give you a review as someone else who loved it.
Added into this mix is the fact that your “performance” is a solo act. I’ve sung solos on stage and, while they can be intimidating, I always had the other guys in TBD (the modern a cappella group for the Harmonizers) backing me up.
There’s no chorus or back-up vocals in writing. Your book is YOURS and it’s out there to be judged. To be graded. Some will like it, others won’t. It’s what makes writing such a raw, personal hobby/profession. You’re presenting your art to one person and one person alone. The reader is sitting in front-row-center. It’s an intimate performance and there’s only a fraction of a chance they will tell you how your art affected them.
Despite all of this, writing is still highly fulfilling. You get to create a world of your choosing, then populate it with characters of all sorts. You dream up dialogue, build climactic scenarios, and put your all into creating a memorable experience. Then you put that story into the wild for individual readers to enjoy. The time to do this is long and the gratification delayed, it will happen. And unlike a performance on stage, the applause will be ongoing and genuine.
And that, gang, is a feeling that makes all the toil worthwhile.
*Which means I’ll be fan-boying pretty hard because I love her. So. Much.