(Oh, by the way, this is Mark. Wendelin’s a little under the weather and has hit the hay early.)
And the reason this has been my battle cry lately is, well… a long-ish story. But I’ll try to keep it short-ish. (For those who know me, you can stop laughing anytime now…)
See, Wendelin’s been working on a new book. (Shh… it’s top secret. So secret that I can’t even mention the name. But I have to say that I’m totally LOVING this book – it’s so awesome in so many ways!) And a very small part of the book involves a little story-within-a-story (written by a young boy) that features a guy who has a pet wolf named Howler. (Of course. Like, what would YOU name your pet wolf???) Actually, Howler is more than just a pet - he’s closer a companion, a furry sidekick, a partner in anti-crime. And even though he really only makes a brief appearance, I was so taken by him that I started referring to the book itself as simply “Howler”, which is shorter than the actual title.
(I do that. Make up short nicknames for things vs. using a better/longer descriptor, I mean. Including – but certainly not limited to - clothing ensembles. Like, uh… my favorite uber-casual outfit is a pair of red running shorts, a white tank-top, and a red ball cap. Otherwise known as ‘The Lifeguard’. And then there’s ‘The Zookeeper’, ‘The Joe Perry’, and ‘The Old Gray Mare’. Among many others. It’s undoubtedly the influence of Sammy on me…)
And now ‘Howler’ has morphed such that it not only refers to the book itself, but to the very act of writing the book. So when I notice that Wendelin is kind of just… let’s say… not doing anything terribly important at the moment (as judged by a Howler super-fan, that is), I just walk by and quietly say (in the world’s loudest stage whisper), “Howler!” Which is my way of saying, “I love this freakin book and I want you to work on it so that I can read another chapter of it, not soon, but right-darn-now!”)
See, I’m a big believer in the idea that you should do what you can to honestly support the creative endeavors of those close to you, and to me there’s nothing like having someone actively waiting to read what you’re currently working on. Doesn’t mean I’m a blind cheerleader – that’s not exactly the definition of ‘honest’, is it? But if I honestly like something, there’s nothing wrong with – and everything right with – letting the person know that I’m really enjoying what they’re doing.
Creativity can be hard. It can look easy from the outside, but on the inside, that’s YOU you’re putting out there, in that writing or painting or sculpture or song. So don’t make it worse for the person laying it on the line by being too cool for school. (You know what I mean – the dude who reads your story as though he’s getting paid to pontificate on every little thing he would have done different, or the girl who finishes your latest bloodletting-on-the-page and comments, “I found three typos.”) You may not love everything (and while good constructive commentary is certainly a gift, it’s a learned skill - which is why we have professional editors), but when you do come across a work-in-progress that you genuinely enjoy, for God’s sake don’t be too cool to tell the person that you find their work good or great or valuable or stunning or clever or breathtaking or whatever descriptor best fits. Trust me – they’re not too cool to benefit from the validation, especially if they can sense that’s it’s honest and heart-felt.
Which is why - if you walk by our place these days - you just might catch a glimpse of a lifeguard shouting, “Howler!”