The other day I wrote about GW2 and how it lead me to writing my fantasy books. While writing that piece, I also dredged up a memory that still haunts me. It was the memory of the first time I tried to write a story and got laughed at by someone I thought was a friend. I’ve carried it with me, deep inside, for many years. It took me almost twelve years after that initial mocking to be able to even attempt to write prose. I remember thinking if someone that was supposed to be my dearest friend is laughing this hard, I must not be a very good writer. In retrospect, that is not true at all.
Most of the time your rough draft of anything sucks. Everything could use improvement and revision. It has taken me many English classes, reading many blog posts, and many years to see that. My English teachers always encouraged my writing and not just in that way that English teachers have to. I have always been told I am a good writer. One would think if multiple English teachers tell you that you do not suck that it must be true. Yet, that one bad memory pokes out and stabs me sometimes. It clouds my vision. Add that with the atmosphere of being a writer and it gets really cold and murky in the self-doubt waters.
I have been contemplating a lot lately about my writing career. When I finished Cursed Bloods, something just broke inside of me. That is why I have been trying to take a lot of time away from creative projects. I want to make lots of nice things. I have ideas. I just sometimes get stuck on those dark, barb memories. They make me want to just throw in the towel and give up. To ask what is the point because it will never amount to anything.
I started writing to make stories I wanted to read. Then I wanted to share them and have others tell me what they thought. I wanted a dialogue between myself and strangers. Yet, it seems that people are so much more critical of authors than other artists for some reason. I always feel like I’m on the defense. Defending my decision to self-publish, defending what I say so trolls don’t 1 star my book, worrying about my word choices, defending my point of view on a book I didn’t like, doing this that and the other just to keep my head above the water so maybe I can make a sale. When in reality, all I want to do is make a great story and have others enjoy it so we can discuss it. What point is there in making a picture, writing a poem, or authoring a book if nobody ever gives you any feedback; if the dialogue never happens ? I guess there is the money factor, but we all know very few can make a living off art alone.
It seems like authors have to do a whole bunch of stuff just to be looked at and get validated, while other artists don’t seem to have to put up with a bunch of the weird hoopla. Now, I’m not saying that other artists don’t work their butt off and they don’t have their own industry/genre problems, but it seems like authors have a lot of unique hoops to jump through. I guess I just don’t understand why. Why some reviewers are so mean to some authors. Why people hate independent authors. Why people think it is fun to give people 1 stars on books they have never read because it happened to be Tuesday. Why people even feel like they have to “show that author” by giving a 1 star review. Do you do that your electronics products? Or your restaurants? Or your music downloads? I kind of feel that many authors live in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and as someone that felt like that the entire time they were in high school, I don’t like it.
To make matters worse, authors also seem to be overly critical of themselves. Artists can be a moody bunch in general, but I see authors lamenting things all of the time on Face Book. More so than my comic artist friends, painters, or poets. At least for me, it is like I beat myself up constantly over this that or the other. I think that is another reason why I am having a hard time after writing this last novel. Every time I look at the book, I’m obsessing over periods and commas and spacing. I cannot see the forest for the trees. When what I really should be doing is celebrating the fact that I wrote a novel. Yet, I just can’t see the happy part of having created a story that is getting good feedback. It is like all the fun has been sucked out of making something and has been tainted by fear of rejection and intimidation.
That all leads me to today’s post. It is hard to put into words what I’m trying to express, but it stems from the idea and comfort in knowing that I wrote a novel. People may tear you down and scrutinize your work, but in the end you wrote something. You took the time to string words together to tell a story. There may be a lot of books out there and a lot of authors, but not everyone has attempted to complete a novel and even less people understand the creative process of it because they have not lived it. No matter how horrible a book is, it is still mostly a labor of time and effort. It takes a long time to finish a book for a lot of people. That was something as a reader I never understood when I impatiently demanded my next Anne Rice book. True, there are some authors that try to churn out crap in hopes someone will just buy it, but you have those kinds of folks in ANY industry if you look hard enough. Yes, the flood gates are open and we are inundated with books. There is no one telling many authors no, this is not ready. Yet, at the same time there is no one denying the reader the ability to find something they may not have found before.
However, the majority of authors out there are actually trying to produce something good, even if maybe the prose itself isn’t that great. So, the next time you read a book keep that idea in mind. It may be the biggest pile of crap you have ever read. It may not be up to your standards. You may wonder how people ever enjoyed the story and doubt all the 4 and 5 star reviews. However, at the end of the day, that author took the time to try to craft a tale and share it with the world. They are sharing a piece of themselves with you. For some, it is easy to share and they can deflect all the negative criticism that seems to be aimed to undermine. For others, it is not very easy to share a creative work. Don’t be that barb in somebody’s soul just because you can. It is OK to give a critical review and say what you did or did not like about a book or story. That really is what a review should contain; meat and potatoes with a side of nuts and bolts. It is OK to offer advice for the author in the review about what might make it better in your opinion. Maybe it is a really good story, but needs help with a giant plot hole. Maybe the author just doesn’t see it. Maybe the author got poor advice about something and they are just now learning the error of their ways. It is OK not to love a story. (The world knows how much I hate Ethan Frome.) But more and more I am thinking it is not necessary to blast some of these authors out of the water with the venom I see some get spit at them. Most authors are not soulless creatures with a thick hide. They are human, just like you. Sure, you have to brace yourself for some of the criticism because not everyone will like your book and you have to accept this. Same with any artistic medium. A well balanced and thoughtful review, even if critical, should be appreciated. Yet, if it was your book and you put it out there for the world to see would your skin be thick enough to weather some of these harsh criticisms? You know, the mean kind of review full of venom that people say authors should just suck up and get over. I mean really, they asked for it since they dared to release a book into the world and they should just stop all this whining when someone attacks them or their work [insert sarcastic smile here].
I am certainly not advocating “A” for effort or 4 stars just cause they tried, sugar coating the truth, or ribbons for participating, but I am asking for readers and authors to keep in mind that all books should be celebrated as an accomplishment of some kind. How many people think they can write a book only to find out that they can never finish it? How many great books lay in someone’s desk drawer because they are afraid of the negativity or backlash if they were to release it? When you are reading a book, realize that another human has tried to write something and convey feelings to other humans. It is an attempt to connect with others. Encourage creativity. Don’t be a barb, be a step up if you can. You never know what jewel may come from your encouragement/feedback even if authors are supposed to have thick skin and never read their reviews.
And authors, don’t bash those that take the time to review your work. It is OK to be upset when someone writes something really mean or uncalled for. But many reviewers are writing well balanced critical reviews only to be attacked by people for having an opinion. A three star review or even a real one star review is not the end of the world. Learn how to separate those that attack from those that give useful, constructive insight. Take the important theme from the reviews. Do many people say the same thing? If so, maybe that is a problem area. Can you improve the story? Just because a reviewer said they did not love your book, it does not mean they did not read it. Maybe they just were not the best audience for your work, but at least they have tried to open a dialogue about your work.
See the forest for the trees. Celebrate your accomplishments and always strive to improve!