Damn You, First Reader!

I’ve got a piece I’m working on. It’s more working on me. But I’m late. I’m behind. I’ve got a deadline and nothing but crap to submit. And I remember an idea I heard. It was that ninety percent of everything you do is crap. And I’ve got nothing else at the moment. So in order to get something out, anything, at this moment, I offer a huge rationalization: here’s to the crap. Here’s to the shit. Here’s to the feces, the excrement, the turds with the polish worn off. Here’s to the brown stains that, two toilet paper rolls later, can’t be wiped clean. Here’s to the verbal diarrhea smeared across the page. This is all I can offer today.

I had something interesting. Something that would make you think. I know it would because it made me think. But then I started thinking. I started thinking it was convoluted. I started thinking it rambled. I started thinking it was too boring. I started thinking that people don’t like to think. That they want to be entertained, not think. I started thinking of how I could make it better. How I could make it interesting. I started thinking that if I had to make it interesting, that the topic itself must be boring. Or else it wouldn’t need to be made interesting. I scrapped the attempts to make it interesting. I started thinking I could make myself think it was interesting on its own. I started thinking it just needed to be better organized. It was missing connection between the points. It didn’t flow. I added connections. I added reasons. I added examples. I added becauses and buts and therefores. I added so much proof that I proved this interesting idea was truly convoluted. And nothing’s more boring than convolution.

So I cut. I cut the boring parts. The parts some writer I can’t remember but still more famous than me said I should cut. And I cut. And I cut. I weed whacked the shit. Macheted the crap until it splattered everywhere. No need for a fan. And when I looked at the splatter, I had achieved something magical. I had transformed the boring into the banal. I had nothing that hasn’t been said before. Damn you Plato and Aristotle for ensuring no one would have an original thought again.

And I know it was unoriginal and boring and convoluted because of a reader. So while we’re damning some dead Greeks, at the same time, damn the reader. If I’m to cheers the crap, those who damn the stench must be damned. It’s only logical. But there’s one reader that especially needs to be damned. A reader who looks for nothing but ways to tear down the writing. The most caustic reader. The most judgmental reader. The reader that thinks they know everything about the piece, every motivation and assumption, and especially how all those everythings work together to make the work crap. The most horrible of readers. The first reader of any work — the author.

Damn you, first reader. Damn your questions, your accusations, your accusations passive-aggressively made as questions. Damn you for damning the work for its imperfections. Damn you for pointing out what every other reader in the universe will point at — and laugh. Damn you for contradicting every word. Damn you for pointing out every inconsistency, every moment of ambiguity, of obsfuscation. Every spelling error. Every slip in logic. Damn you for revealing the overuse of logic. Damn you for making me talk to myself in public.

Yes, I will damn you, you damned first reader. Because I know something you don’t. I know that all work starts as crap. I even stated some unverifiable statistic to prove it. And I can flush that crap to the sewer, post it to the internet — it’s basically the same thing. And then this crap will also be flushed from my mind. Don’t ask me if that’s true, first reader; you’ve been damned. And I know something else you don’t. Sometimes, there’s a nugget of usefulness in the crap. An undigested corn kernel glowing in the bowl. So go ahead and tell me my piece is crap. Your critiques are just as unoriginal. There’s something edible in the crap. Quit asking me if I would eat it. I don’t need to. I just need to pluck it from the filth, clean it. Wipe away the feces, remove the crap words. Then sanitize, but not for judgmental pricks like you, first reader. Sanitize it in a way that leaves a gleaming thought for brilliant minds. I know I’ll finally get down to nothing but a pristine yellow kernel. And no one will know the difference when they take a nibble. Damn you for thinking otherwise.

Yes, first reader, this sounds disgusting. It is disgusting, a process made all the more disgusting by you. So damn you again. Yes, first reader, I know it’s a necessary process. Why are you still talking? Yes, you pointing out the crap of my piece is also pointing out what to fix and to cut and to clean. Yes I know it’s the only way to find that kernel and make it edible. And yes thank you for reminding me, as I look down at my brown, greasy hands stinking up the page, that there is something good and useful that will come out, sooner or later. But still, today I hate it, so damn you, too. And yes, fist reader, I’ve got the crap flushed out of me now. I can get back to work. And yes, I now have something to submit, which gives me the time to make the other piece what it needs to be. And yes, first reader, you’re damn right this piece is a cop out. I’ll make the next one worth it.

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  1. “A reader who looks for nothing but ways to tear down the writing.” Shaking my head in agreement as I am reading this and remembering a million stories, while also realizing I do the same to my own writing.

  2. Courtney Montague

    I love this because that first reader is someone we can ALL relate too because we all have that inner critic that drives us mad but also pushes us to be better.

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