sábado, 28 de dezembro de 2013

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why Are Writers' Egos So Fragile?

Usually I try to do a Did You Know on Wednesdays, but I haven't been reading any weird or unusual history lately. I haven't really been reading at all and I'm grouchy during my withdrawls. You've been warned.

This morning I came across a blog You Light Up My Life which intrigued me, not only with the content, but the fact that it is still garnering comments after three years. Writers are so sensitive about critiques (and determined in some ways to take all comments the wrong way if possible). I'm guilty here, I had a writer friend who was wonderfully encouraging. I'd smile and thank him. I figured he was one of those people so many blogs warn about, you know, the ones who will prop you up even when your story is sadly lacking? Oh, he always made corrections, but he also always praised my story. Then I submitted to various magazines. While I didn't sell any of the stories, the editors were all nice and their comments sounded a lot like my friends. One editor had kept the story for almost six months before returning it. She couldn't use it, and I knew that. It didn't quite suit the publication and it was too short (my opinion, not hers). But at the end of the day, I had tossed off legitimate compliments, giving them little merit, because I knew I wasn't a good writer.

I found it unsurprising that comments to the above blog were almost solely focused on family, mostly parents. I couldn't help but wonder if writers so desperately want parental approval that they are willing to put on reality blinders as they plunge forward seeking encouragement. I mean, we all know our parents. I wouldn't ask either one of mine to read my novel. My dad, who rarely reads anything fictional, would read my book if I asked. He would try to encourage me in his way. My mom (who I got my reading habit from, if it is a habit and not genetic) would also read my novel, just because I ask. My mom reads crime/ thriller/ horror/ suspense type books. She hasn't ever, to my knowledge, read fantasy.  I could easily see her being encouraging. Not because she liked the book. A waste of time on both our parts.

Bottom line, I think most writers have only one issue: they're different and most times in a weird way. Writers seek approval, not for their actual work, but as a confirmation they aren't that different and they aren't too weird. I read a blog by a known mystery author who rarely told anyone what she does for a living, because she spends 75% of her time thinking of unique and creative ways to kill people. What normal person does that? I also read a book by a science fiction author who'd been asked if he wanted to have sex with aliens, because he wrote sex scenes with aliens. And who knows how many readers suspect Stephen King has bodies buried in his back yard?

Writers are different, like most artists and it seems like the general public wants to keep them on the fringe, while secretly gobbling up their stories. Because, readers don't want to be seen as different either. How many people admit to reading romance novels? Yet they are the biggest selling genre out there. How many readers will recommend a book, then comment on how it had some literary merit, while ignoring the extraordinary or off-color aspects of the book.

So how do writers overcome being different? Embrace it. I know I'm different. I know I'm weird. I know I have voices in my head that constantly demand their story be told. I also know, according to society, if I wasn't a writer those same voices would land me in a mental institution. Who cares? I have a gift and that's how I look at it. I can find a story walking down the street. Most people can't do that. I can create worlds that seem real and then populate the worlds with people that readers can connect with. Most people can't do that either.

There's one author I admire for letting it all go, Stephanie Meyer. This writer has been heckled and hassled since she put out her series. Oddly, the heckling didn't start until her books were popular. But here are a few examples of the complaints against the writer. Some things other writers should study and prepare themselves for, because if they find a random comment from their parents crippling, then they need to rethink actually publishing an entire novel for public consumption.

First, sparkly vampires who are good-natured. When I first heard about the idea I thought it was great. She wrote a book based, not on throat ripping creatures SO done already, but a story about people with an affliction they don't want and try to overcome. It's a unique take on an old theme with a built in struggle between good and evil and automatically I'm rooting for them.

Next, even more oddly, the writers religion. Unfortunately, the writers religion, while not mentioned once in the actual book, draws even more condemnation from authors and the public alike. How dare she write about the struggles of good and evil, moral and immoral or even the choice of right and wrong? A totally unfair attack because every novel worth its salt is based on some internal, and often external, struggle of what the protagonist thinks is right or wrong and the choices they make accordingly.

Addressing Harry Potter fans, who appear to be disappointed because the story wasn't about a wizard going to school, is hardly worth mentioning. Potter was geared to young males and hit the target audience admirably. You don't see Twilight fans complaining that the main character was male in Harry Potter (although maybe they should but that's a whole different post). Get over it guys, Twilight was geared for girls and if you don't like it, don't read it (and I suspect most of these complaints come from those who didn't actually read the series).

Anyhow, my biggest pet peeve complaint: bad writing. Now I read this series for two reasons, the first because my teen daughter liked them and I wanted to know what she was reading, and second because I was starting a YA fantasy novel so I thought I should see what was on the YA market. At first I thought a lot of it was cheesy which is not the same as bad writing. Then I stepped back and looked at it as a writer. She had captured the female YA audience like few others up to that point. She connected with her target audience in a way most writers only hope to do. I wondered why this series drew so much criticism. Then it hit me. Jealousy. The more negative comments I read the madder I got. Not because they said she wrote poorly, but because people were inadvertently putting down a writer for writing at the level of their audience. If she wasn't addressing adults, on an adult level, then she wasn't really a writer. It's demeaning. And it's not just demeaning to the writer, but the readers as well. Society cries out about illiteracy, yet they put down those who would write an interesting tale to the younger audiences? Why even bother publishing toddler books or elementary level books? People who write those aren't 'real' writers. Their stories aren't worth the paper they're printed on. But instead of being proud that an author helped thousands develop a passion for reading (my daughter included), people complain because the series isn't a literary masterpiece (was it intended to be?).

No, Encyclopedia Brown will never be able to compete with Hemingway, but a first grader isn't going to read Hemingway are they? And if Mr. Brown kindles a passion for reading in the first grader (like he did with me), then that one child will grow up to appreciate mainstream authors who've been so condemning. And maybe, just maybe, that child will write a book geared toward a younger generation in hopes of inspiring others to discover the joys of reading.

Now I'll climb down from my soap box and just say that writers should pursue their work with the passion that inspired their first story, their first idea of a story. Quit worrying about approval, it's out there and there are thousands of readers waiting to be taken away by your tale. Quit worrying about disapproval, it's out there too, because of jealousy, lack of understanding, lack of compassion, or some pompous reviewer who thinks they know better than most of the population what good or bad writing is. You have to tell the story the voices ask you to tell. They don't start out by saying 'tell my story because your dad will like it' or 'because Cousin Jane will relate to me' or 'because your best friend Dave once said he'd like to read a story like mine'. The voices start out with 'You won't believe what happened at school today' or 'Can you believe our ship is under attack?'. Follow the voice, tell the tale, and then let it, along with all the comments, go their way. And count yourself lucky if you can relate to your target audience no matter how large or small and regardless of their age or maturity.

Personal Note - Yes, I own all the Twilight books and movies. But, yes, I also own all the Harry Potter books and movies. And, again, yes, I've read and watched them all.

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