Memorable Writing

Someone remembered my writing and used it as an example!

Of bad writing.

(Oh, come on. You had to see that coming.)

I can’t say that I disagree, per se. It wasn’t my best work and could have used some polishing. However, that’s not why it was used as an example. Of bad writing. (I might be a tad bitter.)

I know up front that I still have a lot to learn about the craft of writing. Loving to write, needing to write, being unable to stop writing, isn’t enough. That’s the truth I’ve come to grips with lately. Loving it isn’t enough. Very few of us are naturally “that good.” Most of us are good, but have to really work at the “that” part. I’m one of them, and that’s fine.

The reason it was held up as a bad example wasn’t because of the writing but because of where it started. Specifically, because this reader didn’t care about the character yet. There was no emotional involvement so why do we care about what is happening to the character.

OK. I see what she’s saying. Really, I do. But.

(Because you knew that was coming, too.)

Don’t you automatically care about the character because you picked up the book? Part of me wanted to say, isn’t that what book jackets and synopses for? You’re reading the book because your friend said it’s awesome, right? So, don’t you automatically want to know what happens even if you’re not emotionally connected to the character in the first 200 or so words? You don’t just give up on a book after 200 words do you? If you’re an agent, maybe, sure, but a reader? Don’t you keep reading a little further, just to see?

Personally, the soonest I’ve ever given up on a book was about 3 pages in. A record for me, to be sure, and it wasn’t because I didn’t emotionally connect with the character. It had to do with some really bad writing about testicles. Don’t ask. But that’s more than 200 words.

Don’t misunderstand. She wasn’t saying she had to like the character, which is a totally different thing. She just needed to connect. And that’s fine, for her. Not everyone needs to connect with a character just to keep reading.

Take The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I loved that book. But the first 70 pages. Yikes. What the hell was that? I couldn’t understand what all the fuss and hype was about. But, people told me not to give up and I didn’t. And I’m glad I didn’t. And, in turn, I shared that advice with others who wanted to give up. Don’t, I said. I promise.

I didn’t connect with any character in the beginning because, frankly, there was no one really to connect with. Lots of set-up, no action. Boring. When I was reading it I remember thinking, I could easily condense this into about 3 pages and move on, but, that’s not how that book was written. I would have missed out if I had given up after 3 pages just because of the lack of connection.

So, what does this all mean? While the critique was coming from a good place, I just can’t agree. I started in the right place. Perhaps I needed more characterization for context and connection, but, no, I was right to start where I did.

And I’m going to keep going.

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?

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.