Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


Being Okay With Being Disliked

Do you care if people like you? Or do you care if certain people like you?

Not that long ago, I used to want everyone to like me and (surprise) be insecure about it. If someone didn’t respond to an email, call me back, or accept an invitation to hang out, I used to wonder, What did I do? Does this person not like me anymore? Did they ever?

Over the years, several so-called friends (all female) ended our friendship because they perceived me as doing something wrong, or their feelings were hurt by something I did or said. One woman got mad at me because I had lunch with her ex-boyfriend after he broke up with her. He was a screenwriter and we were discussing one of my scripts at the lunch, but my friend thought I was trying to “move in on her territory.” Nothing I could say or do would appease her. She simply didn’t want to be friends with “someone who would do that.”

On the other hand, I’ve had some friends since childhood, girls with whom I’ve had terrible rows and not talked to for periods of time. Some of my closest friends are the ones I’ve fought with the most, like my friend T, the producer. She once hired me, a relatively new friend to her at the time, as a director on a project. We had such heated arguments that our friendship almost didn’t make it. Now, years later, I consider her family and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her.

In the digital age, the word “like” has taken on even more significance. People “like” your blog posts, “like” you on Facebook, “favorite” or “re-tweet” your tweets, and so on.

If you’re an artist, as much as you try to be true to yourself and ignore bad reviews, it’s hard not to wonder if people will like your work, if not wish for it.

If you’re a writer of non-fiction, or even fiction, the reality is you might be disliked by the people you’ve written about, or the people who “inspired you.” Philip Roth, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Burroughs, Stephen King, and countless others, all based stories and characters on their own lives and experiences. Did everyone in their lives like this? Doubtful.

I sometimes think about this with my own work. Some of the people who stood by me during Kaz’s illness and after his death might not like what they read in my memoir. Should I change things to try and avoid falling out of their favor? Scary as the prospect might be, I don’t think so.

My relationships with people are important. But the fact is, if someone decides to stop being friends with me because of something I write (or say, or some perceived offense), then perhaps they weren’t my real friend to begin with. They might have thought they loved me, but in reality they loved an image of who they thought I was, not who I really am.

I want to be a good friend and a good person, make my family and friends proud. Most of all, make Kaz proud. But I no longer care (as much) if people like me personally. I no longer take people’s reactions, or lack thereof, as personally as I used to. It’s not that I’m oblivious, or made of stone. I’m the first to admit I have a healthy ego. The difference is I no longer judge myself by how others perceive me. I try my best to love myself no matter what.

Can you relate?


What Makes a Reader Care?

Have you ever read a book that made you cry? If so, what was it about the story that moved you? I would bet that, on some level, you fell in love with the characters and those characters were put in a difficult, perhaps impossible, situation. How did the author make you fall in love with the characters? How did she weave the story to make you feel like you were IN the story? How did she make you care?

This is my challenge at the moment as a writer. After the recent Frankenstein edit to my memoir, I gave it back to the reader who initially told me the draft didn’t hold her interest past the mid-point. Last night she gave me notes based on the new edit. The good news is this draft held her interest through to the end, and there were parts that made her laugh out loud. The bad news is the draft didn’t make her cry. Considering the story is about a couple who falls in love, then one gets sick and dies, and the other mourns him, this is very bad news indeed. Crushing, actually. It means she wasn’t emotionally invested in the characters. It also means the conflict wasn’t clear or compelling enough.

Herein lies the difference between real life and the written word.

In real life, the conflict was really clear and super F’ing compelling to the people involved. Kaz, an otherwise healthy young man in the prime of his life, the man I loved, was dying of a terminal disease, and there was nothing either one of us could do about it. I once told my therapist that being his caregiver felt at times like being on a ship that keeps getting hit by torpedoes. “I’m running around frantically trying to plug the holes, but as soon as I plug one another two show up, and the ship is slowly sinking.” 

The flip side of that nightmare was that we bonded as a couple at the same time we were being ripped apart by his illness.  In pictures taken shortly after his death, I am beaming, not because I’m happy but because I had never felt more in love or empowered. On the one hand, I felt full. On the other, I felt as if a part of me had just died, because it did. I set out to write about us because I wanted to capture the incredible journey we had taken, and the way in which that journey changed us and especially me, the survivor.

Translating all of that to the page is no small task. I’m a screenwriter by nature, not an author. I use language to describe action, setting, dialogue and transitions, not necessarily how the air smelled, the color of the sheets, or how the sun glinting off the car hood reminded me of a childhood scene. My reader picked up on this. “This would make an awesome movie,” she said. “We would be seeing and feeling the nuances without your having to describe them.” But it’s not a movie yet. It’s a book – a novel really (even if it’s true) – which is arguably the most difficult type of writing to master.

I recently posted about losing steam and not finishing projects. Here is a prime example of a “losing steam” kind of moment. I’m tired of writing this book, both mentally and emotionally. But I’ve come too far to stop now. I must push through my fatigue and do another pass. I must return to the sinking ship and remember what it felt like, what it sounded like, what it looked like… then try to describe it so the reader will hear, see, feel and taste the details. I must go back and remember who Kaz and I were, the beautiful moments, the snapshots of love… then shape those memories into characters that the reader will love, and moments the reader will want to experience. My goal is not to make the reader cry. My goal is to make the reader care.

To answer the opening question, the last book that made me cry was The Disappearance by Genevieve Jurgensen, a memoir about her losing both of her young daughters to a drunk driver in one afternoon, and her subjequent recovery from that loss. It’s quite sad but also inspiring. I highly recommend it.