Not needing approval, because you know it's good
When Kenny Brechner of DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Maine said the world’s nicest thing about Rick the Rock of Room 214, I contacted him to see if I could do a story time at his bookstore, and he suggested I do the annual Prime Time Reading event at the elementary school nearby, which was going to be held in person for the first time in a few years.
I drove up for the event last night. Farmington is an hour and 45 minutes from me, and it was a nice drive. I listened to the Kevin Smith episode of the Good One podcast, which is a lot about being true to yourself as an artist, and how you can keep doing that over the course of a long career, since you change and evolve.
One part I keep thinking about was what Smith said about not reading reviews (and this is Kevin Smith, so what I’m about to quote is a lot spicier than what I normally write here, avert your eyes if you think that might ruffle you).
I always have been more sensitive to feedback than other film makers are…I’ve met so many over the course of my career, and yeah, of course we want to be loved, but so many of them are like, “I don’t read reviews.” I mean, I don’t do it anymore, but that took a lifetime; literally, it took twenty years or more of my career to be like, “Why are you bothering? Like, you did this for you. This is an act of masturbation. When you jerk off, you don’t go to others for approval afterwards. You like the feeling it gave you? That’s exactly what this is, why are you looking for approval?”
Crude, sure, but there is a moment when you make something that you know is good, and you did everything you could to make it what it could be, and you love it. And at that point, it doesn’t matter what other people think. If you truly know it’s good, it doesn’t matter.
And then I got to the elementary school, and this is what the gym looked like.
First I have to give a huge shout-out to Mallett School librarian Arika Galkowski who created these decorations. I am in awe of the amount of work she put into making all the illustrations in the book and making them enormous, and the level of detail she put in. I dropped everything so I could text all photos to Ruth. She was on the subway, which was fun to relay to the kids when I was presenting to them later, since here in Maine we tend to think that everyone who lives in New York City spends their entire day on the subway.
Then when Kenny introduced me, he was saying some very, very nice things, to the extent that it took me a minute to realize he was even talking about me. And yes, I realize how egotistical this sounds, but I promise I have a point beyond bragging. He was talking about how the very best books make you laugh but also tell a great story, and also do it in such a way that make it look easy. I was thinking, “Yes, that’s true, I agree with that!” And then he said, “Julie Falatko does that with her books.” WELL OK.
Not to say that I am anywhere near Kevin Smith’s level of career, but having just listened to him talk, and thinking about how I don’t need approval and validation quite so much as I once did, it was funny to be in this honestly overwhelming situation where an idea I once had about a rock was now 12 feet tall on a wall next to me, and a bookseller I respect was saying cool things about me.
The thing that really struck me, and which is what I’m carrying forward, is that I only got to that place last night by doing the work. The way to make a book that is a good story and makes you laugh and looks effortless is to work long and hard at it. And the long game of publishing can feel ridiculous sometimes. You come up with an idea and if you really work at it, maybe it’ll be a book four years later. When I do the Rick presentation, I show the kids the first version of the story, which is written in barely legible pencil in a notebook. Because when I first wrote it, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, I’d better make this legible so one day I can put this in a presentation.” I was just playing with story.
I also tell them about how the story evolved over the years. Because it was years of work to get to the final book. And you have to be really granular about it. You have to say, “I’m going to do the work today, and the work I’m going to do today is what I can realistically accomplish today.” So it won’t be a whole book, it’ll be scratching out a draft, or getting the beginning lines perfect, or figuring out what the story is about really, or taking another pass to cut down the word count. You do that today, and do it again tomorrow, and 50 more times, until you get it to that point where you feel great about it and know you made a beautiful thing.
Kevin Smith talks about how the judgment of how good you are really comes at the end of your career. And then he says, “I’m pretty sure I did something unique and special in this world.”
And that’s really all I want at the end of the day. I won’t be judged on whether an incredible librarian spends months recreating a book I wrote in massive scale on the gym walls, but on whether my books connected with people. The only way to get there is to do the work, do the writing, crack myself open and put everything on the page.
Every time I am filling out some online form and it asks me to check this, I think, yes, please, actually, remember me. I know it’s saying “do you want me to remember your credit card information to make it easier for you to buy a sweater in the future?” but always I think, please remember me. I do the work to make the best art I can with the hope that I’ll be remembered.
On my drive home, the moon was glowing so beautifully through the clouds that I pulled over to take a photo.
This world is full of beauty and wonder. If I can add to that in even the tiniest way, I did a good job.
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