What if I Really do Suck?

I’m switching it up a bit today and writing first, everything else. Except the laundry. That can never wait and it’s easy to do while writing unlike, say, a shower.

My first writing exercise was a review of my recent dentist visit (the one with the scheduled in advance “family emergency”).

This sounds a bit lame, but I actually liked it. Thinking of it as an exercise. It’s hard to give negative feedback in a positive way. To turn the feedback into a learning opportunity or whatever. So, this was a good chance for me to practice. As a writer, (and a reader) it’s important to be able to give and receive this sort of thing. It was nice to have a chance to practice. Also, I was able to do it anonymously, so that helps. I can hide behind the Internet in case the feedback was too harsh.

Which is kind of a funny thing to say. Shouldn’t I be willing to stand by my review? To sign my name proudly to it and to say, Yup, this is what I think? Especially since I was trying to be nice about it (mostly. I’ll admit to one or two snarky parts, but they were well earned on their part. Most stuff I can let slide, but every now and then…).

So, why do you care that I reviewed a dentist today?

It got me thinking about reviews in general and how people process them. I started reading a book that was widely praised and positively reviewed in a bunch of publications. Cool. I’ll read almost anything that gets decent reviews. I started it. I lost interest. I kept trying to get through it. Not so much because I cared about the character (I don’t) or I wanted to see how it ended (doesn’t matter) but because the writing is quiet good. It’s the literary writing that might be described as “beautiful prose with wonderful turns of phrase.” Or something equally flowery.

But I don’t really care for the book, the characters, the plot (which isn’t exactly a plot, per se. More like a series of vignettes about this character which also don’t have much of a plot), none of it. There’s no tension, no action, no nothing. I’m not saying all stories need to have guns and cars and murders and whatever, but there’s no tension in this story. Nothing interesting or scary or curious happens. It’s just the character, living her life, and here’s what happens. Happy reading!

Blech.

OK, fine, whatever, it’s not for me. But, then I got curious. Who else doesn’t like this book? Is it just me? Am I a philistine? An uncultured clod? (Both of these things are entirely possible.) So, I looked up reviews for these books on Amazon and Goodreads.

Discarding the reviews that were clearly biased (like the one star review on Amazon that tore apart the author’s character and personality and said nothing about the actual book), there were a fair amount of negative reviews. Both sites gave this highly recommended by professional reviewers, well blurbed book an average of 3 stars. Which is fine and nothing to sneeze at, but… Still…

Ignoring the fact that it sort of proves the point that just because a book is published by a well-respected big 5 (that’s what we’re down to now, right? Five?) publisher, doesn’t necessarily mean anything these days. A traditionally published book could be just as awesome or as sucky as a self-published indie book. I think that’s been the case for a while now.

I more wonder about the author. Here’s this book that she probably slaved away at for at least a year, if not more. And she achieved the dream! (My dream, at least.) An agent, a traditional publishing contract, probably a promotional budget (I hope), and validation! Someone else, probably a bunch of someone else’s, think your writing is worthy of print. And those blurbs that talk about how great your writing is and how great the book is. How amazing! It all reinforces the fact that you have arrived! You are not just a writer, but an author of books!

I’m not going to lie. I live this fantasy often.

But. But. But. And I hate saying this. It’s great that there’s all that validation, but what about the comments? I know they say, never read the comments. No good can come from it. But, what about all those Amazon and Goodreads people? Don’t their opinions count for anything? Aren’t they just as important and affirming and validating? Doesn’t the fact that they think you aren’t that great count for anything? Because, I mean, it wasn’t just one or two people. It was enough people that it brought your rating to 3 stars. Which is just average.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d probably take a 3 star rating, because at least I’d be getting rated. Which would mean my book is out there. Being read. By other people. Not just my mother. And that would be spectacular.

But, the reviews for this book… Much of what was written was exactly what I was thinking. Writing is good it’s just the story is blah. I suppose you could make the argument, it was her story to tell and she told it as she wanted to. Also, she doesn’t work for me, so what I think doesn’t matter. All though, it kind of does since I won’t buy another of her books, so, where does that leave her? What is she thinking? Is she ignoring the nay sayers? Changing her writing style? Crying?

And how would I handle something like that? After all that slaving and pouring my heart out on the page, and tearing my hair out and whatever else I do to motivate myself, how would I feel if it turns out my writing is only average? I mean, it probably is, but it’s one thing for me to say it. It’s another thing for everyone else to say it.

So, today, I throw this question out there. How do you (or would you) handle negative reviews of your writing? I mean, the nice ones, not the “You totally suck,” non-specific reviews. It could be Amazon or a professional reviewer or someone who’s opinion you trust/respect (but not your Mom’s). Do you ignore them? Say the reviewer doesn’t know what they’re talking about? Internalize it? Take it to heart and adjust your writing accordingly? Drink heavily?

I Can’t Possibly Be Serious

I guess this blogging every day thing isn’t going to work out like I planned because, it would seem, I haven’t written anything in five days.

Oops.

That happens from time to time. Stuff gets in the way. You know, life and all. And, as a writer, it doesn’t really bother me. I fully believe that writing every day isn’t something I can do. I don’t think it’s something anyone should do (but that’s just me). Too easy to get frustrated and to tear out hair screaming “Why me, damn it? Where are all the ideas?”

Maybe that’s just me.

In any event, the fact that it’s been five days does make me wonder how serious I am about this whole writing as a job thing. My day job is part-time for the express purpose of allowing me to write (and to bring in money). Yet, since March, when I started, I haven’t exactly worked on the WIP too much. Here and there I have, and I do feel like I’ve made some solid progress, but nothing really substantial. Each time I do write, I manage to pound out about 2000 words. Which (ball parking numbers here) would mean I should have a completed novel (rough first draft, of course!) in about 40 days. Forty days! Which would mean, and I don’t really write on weekends, I should have completed a rough draft of this sucker by, give or take, the first week of May!

Ouch.

Even allowing for the occasional illness, life event and shear laziness, I still should have finished by now.

Ouch again.

I could come up with a million reasons why I haven’t finished, and they’d all be really, really, really good reasons. But they don’t matter, do they? Because I haven’t been working on it. Which makes me wonder, is it that I’m not devoted enough to my craft, this is just a hobby for me? Am I really as lazy as all that?

And yet, here I still sit in the bathroom (it’s quiet in here. Don’t judge me!), typing away, plotting and planning. And writing.

Quieting the Beat

Just a bit of housekeeping before I get started today.

Dear Spammers:

If you want to try to sneak through my spam filters by hiring people to actually write comments instead of using automated ones, fine. More power to you. However, I’d highly recommend you advise them not to write negative things about the blog. While I always welcome critiques of my work, being negative just for the sake of being negative with an obviously spammy identity will not get you moderated on to the blog comments.

Thank you for your cooperation and supporting my blog. Keep trying!

Hugs and Kisses,

Me.

Phew. I feel so much better.

I have a raging headache today. It’s better now (thank you, Starbucks), but I find it makes it harder for me to write. My brain gets foggy and while I enjoy a good bass beat, I’m not particularly a fan when it’s in my head. It reminds me of college after a Saturday night. Yet, somehow I managed to get up and study. Mostly. My grades wouldn’t necessarily reflect that, but I did graduate.

Given the MC of the WIP is a borderline alcoholic (that’s a thing, right?), with a sour temperament (I know that’s a thing.) you’d think this would be super helpful. No stretching myself to imagine (or remember) what the morning after a bender feels like, no digging deep for metaphors and descriptions. Just sit down and describe me in the present.

Probably not happening.

There’s been a bunch of quotes floating around on the web lately (probably not lately, I just seem to be finding them lately) about writing. They’re all about sitting in the chair and writing, not waiting for the muse, do it every day, set a goal, and so on. These are lovely platitudes. They are realistic and make sense (and come from successful folks who know what they’re talking about).

But none of these platitudes mention what happens when you put your butt in the chair and nothing happens. Absolutely nothing comes. I don’t know why it doesn’t come and it doesn’t really matter. But you can’t find the words. Maybe you get something going, maybe you’re able to put words on the page, but every single one of them suck. They do nothing to advance your story line, enhance your plot or improve your character. They are, literally, words on a page.

Then you get frustrated and stop, or feel like your wasting your time. Or worse, you go away from those words, come back later and realize how utterly crappy they are. Then you feel like you wasted all that time and effort. And for what? To pitch it all out. Or is that just me?

No one talks about that as much. Everyone has experienced this to some extent. But it’s always chalked up to an “Oh, well,” kind of moment. A learning experience. But I hate going in the wrong direction. If that’s the direction, I’d rather not go, I guess.

I don’t mind rewriting (well, I do, but that’s different here), and I don’t mind going in a new direction, away from my outline if it fits, but I don’t want to waste my time on nothing. Just putting words on a page doesn’t seem to help. Putting the right words on the page. That’s what I’d like to do every single time.

Maybe not today though. All I can muster is thump, thump, thump. Hopefully, I can do something with that.

 

Crazy but Worth It

I finished Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King a few minutes ago.

It’s not my intent to review the book except I will say it was an excellent read. (Of course, it was. It was written by Stephen freaking King.) Had three twists in there, two of which I saw coming but felt they went along naturally with the story line. The first twist I did not see coming. I should have as there were enough clues along the way, but I missed it and the twist was excellent. Not at all disappointing or obvious or contrived. Just well done. Because it’s Stephen King.

Which really is the crux of this. I like to write. I like to think I’m pretty good at it. I’ve been told I’m pretty good at it (and not by my mother or best friend, but total strangers!). But, I’ll never be as good as the likes of Stephen King. Or any one of a number of other current day authors. Or classic authors. Like Mark Twain.

That’s OK. I mean, we can’t all be awesome and number one (all though, to see the state of little league and kid’s soccer these days, you think we could be. That we should be), and I accept the fact that I’ll probably never reach that level of awesomeness as a writer.

But I wonder if I’ll ever be remotely that good. I mean, good enough to get an agent and a publishing contract. Or sell a bazillion self-published copies on Amazon or whatever. Success is how you define it (and I have no definition for my writing quite yet) and I think that definition for writers is rapidly changing in this digital age, but I sometimes think I’m waisting my time.

I’m sure we all do. Not just writers, but everyone that pursues a creative art. Painting, drawing, video game design. Are we good enough? Will our work every find a fan base? Will we have enough “success”? These thoughts haunt us on many an insomniac induced evening.

Yet, here I am, plugging away at it. I guess that means I’m crazy.

No, I think it means I just really want it. Enough to keep trying anonymously and unpaid and in the wee hours in the bathroom if that what it takes.

Scratch that. It is crazy. And totally worth it.

Feedback and Feelings

I wasn’t supposed to work today. I had taken the day off for various and assorted reasons. But, earlier this week I learned I didn’t need to take the day off. I could go in, work a few hours, earn some money. I’m at Starbucks right now getting ready to work on the WIP. If that’s not the life of a writer, I don’t know what is.

And it’s probably a good thing I have today to write. Yesterday I had the chance to write (Wednesday and all) and I tried but what a mess. I think I was tired. I was trying to critique someone’s opening and just could not get the second half of my thought together. Probably because it was a criticism. Not a big one, but one I felt the author should know about. Yet no matter what I did, I couldn’t form the right sentences to make it a positive criticism. I felt like I was being, well, mean.

I’ll admit, I was pretty tired yesterday which made the task that much harder, but I really dislike having to criticize. I know it’s important, we all need feedback for growth, wether we are a writer or a horse jockey. We can all always improve. Something, somewhere. Sure, there are times when “good enough” will do and nothing has to be perfect, but feedback is an important thing.

When I was a boss (something I never want to do again!) I used to have to “coach” people all the time. Awful. For many reasons, not the least of which was how do you tell someone “Hey, you’re fucking this up,” nicely? I never did master that art. Because, truly, it’s an art.

It’s one of the things that holds me back from writing. Like why my name isn’t attached to this stuff. I don’t like hearing the criticism. Not because I don’t like hearing it but because it’s so hard to give it and make it not hurtful. I’ve submitted stuff plenty of times for critique and listened to what was said about my stuff. “You write like you talk” was one of my favorites. I still, to this day, have no idea what that means. If you’re going to offer critique, at least have it make sense. I’d rather that than something I’m still ruminating about years later.

“You seem emotionally detached from your character,” at least was useful. That pushed me in a different direction and I appreciated it. Of course, because I’m crazy, I started thinking she meant I was emotionally detached from everything. Maybe that is what she meant, maybe it’s not. But I wonder if there’s another way to reframe (what a coaching word!) that bit of advice to sound “nicer.” If that’s possible.

Of course, in the end it doesn’t matter. The observation was solid. So, whether she thought I was emotionally detached from life or not doesn’t matter. It ultimately helped me. And, of course, it helps to realize that I don’t think she was trying to be mean or imply anything. She was speaking from her heart. What grabbed her or what didn’t. Workshops are like that. Off the cuff and raw at times. Maybe it just takes practice.

And with that last thought, I’m off. To actually work on the WIP.

American Ninja Warrior and the Faire

I’ve been watching American Ninja Warrior. If you haven’t been watching it, you should give it a try. It’s an interesting little show. Extreme obstacle courses. It’s utterly insane what some of these obstacles are, and yet, a bunch of people always manage to get past them and hit the little buzzer signifying victory.

It’s a “clean” show as reality T.V./game show/competition type of shows go. No mudslinging, no name calling, no back stabbing, no behind the scenes plotting. All the stuff reality T.V. isn’t these days. It’s about a bunch of people who share a common interest, extreme obstacle course racing, and how they work together and support one another to achieve the goal: winning. There’s a huge sense of camaraderie. No one hopes the other competitors fall. No one tries to psych anyone else out. Sure, competitors that get knocked out due to someone else completing the course faster are disappointed, but they get over it quick and celebrate the person who won. Because they all support and believe in each other. In short, it is a community.

Which brings me back to the Renaissance Faire. It’s an entirely different thing (except for maybe the jousting) yet it’s exactly the same. It’s people dressing up pretending they lived hundreds of years ago and being in a place that supports that choice without judgement. They are just as committed as the American Ninja Warrior competitors. Instead of training hard to climb up a fourteen foot wall, they wear full length velvet dresses with sixteen layers of crinoline in sweltering heat. Commitment.

I find these two disparate things so similar. They are both community (support without judgement. Given fully and without the expectation of anything but return support without judgement) and commitment. Truly believing they are a knight and living the life in that moment or truly believing they can complete a 25 foot vertical climb using only their hands and feet. And doing so without fear because there are others surrounding them who believe the same thing.

And I am inspired by these things. These are people who found something, however outlandish we might judge them to be, and committed fully to them. Doing whatever they need to do to support that choice. If that doesn’t inspire me to get cracking on this WIP, nothing will.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to This Post

It’s taken a few attempts to get this done. Frankly, for any writer, that isn’t news. Writing is ultimately the process of writing, editing, rewriting, tearing your hair out, screaming, beating the wall, and writing some more.

A few versions were in my head, a few on paper (or screen, as it were). And now there’s this. I think I’m calling this the final attempt. No matter what. Especially, given the technical issues I seem to be encountering.

It started with this idea about how I was going to talk about the Renaissance Faire I went to this weekend. About how I had never gone before and what I saw, experienced, and so on. It was going to end with an observation about the camaraderie I saw there and how it’s interesting that all these people who take this Renaissance thing so seriously have found – created – a place where they can go and be themselves. Whether that’s a fairy (or is it faerie?), a noble person, a pirate or the queen, everyone had a place there. It was awkward at times. I couldn’t always tell who was the hired help and who was a visitor. Lots of costumes.

So, I started writing the post and decided to start out with something about how technology was amazing. How I was sitting in my car, typing with a bluetooth keyboard, and I had air conditioning. That spiraled into some kind of crazy paragraph. Then I was trying to figure out how to link it to the whole Renaissance Faire thing and I started discussing how some of the merchants took credit cards and had Square on their phones to do so and isn’t that cool and blah, blah, blah. It was quite a mess and I couldn’t figure out how to get back to the faire stuff.

In my head I was thinking about how this could lead to a great post on the importance of editing and planning in writing, even for a casual blog post. But, I never got around to that. It’s still in my head. Given how much I “edit” and “plan” these blog posts, it feels a little disingenuous for me to talk about the process. Like I should be an authority but really? Who am I kidding.

Which has led me to this mess of a post. Probably because it’s the end of the day and it’s late and excuses, excuses. It does give fabulous insight into how a writer’s mind wanders. I am absolutely convinced that ll these different things that are somehow connected. I just have to find the common thread that links them all together. Like a good plot. All these odd, random, seemingly unrelated things are related somehow, someway. It’s up to me figure out how and to make it work. To make it really. Like the people at the Renaissance Faire. They absolutely believe it’s real, so I can, too.