Friday, December 22, 2017

Why Your Opinion on Your Writing Affects Mine

There is something in the air that encourages humility and insecurity. I’m going to assume it has something to do with the holidays, though it’s more likely it’s just coincidence. Either way, I have been exposed to more people’s self-deprecation than I have in a while, and it made me analyze the way I think of them.

They posted their poetry. “It’s not very good, I know, but it remains true.”

I wasn’t thinking it was bad… until you said that.

They talk about their books. “I am so embarrassed about my book I’ve published, but you can buy it here.”

Probably not going to happen now.

They admit their fears and poor sales in their statuses. “TITLE isn’t selling well and people are lying to me about reading it!”

They post the negative reviews they receive, and though they rarely have that bad of reactions, they clearly care.

Are these bad things? Isn’t being vulnerable what connects us together? Isn’t being humble good and arrogant bad?

Do I mean to suggest that you shouldn’t talk about your failings to your public? Did I make a mistake in doing so myself?

Well, possibly, but my point isn’t so much as to not do it. It isn’t about to do it either. It is about the complexities of connecting with your audience, being honest with them and yourself, and exposing the difficulties of being a writer while at the same time “faking it until you make it.” In essence, when do you keep your problems to yourself? Because no matter how human you are, when I get the vibe you don’t like your writing, it strongly influences not only my willingness to take a chance on it, it makes me judge your work more harshly. But being human is also what makes people interested in what you have to say.

I obviously can’t say what is right for you, and I have no intention on doing so, especially because I am still struggling to determine what is just a discussion on the trials of writing and what looks petty for myself. I wrote about my worst book ever because I was surprised by its existence. It had returned me to problems I had long solved, ones that I hadn’t had to deal with in a while. It reminded me the possible outcomes of doing things like not outlining. I shared the experience out of wanting to tell my readers what I was working on, what I was going through. But what does it say to an eye that doesn’t know me?

Sometime back there was a young writer who posted a comment about why you should respond to reviews, despite that everyone had told him otherwise. He suggested that it made him seem “cool and professional,” and posted the comment for people to read and tell him their opinions. I lurked instead of submitting my opinion, knowing he really didn’t want to hear criticism on criticism, but he confirmed for me my belief that replying to a review online will never end well.

The criticism had several points, but mostly complained about the self-published writer’s arrogance. In his response, he thanked her for her remarks and told her that he would use her criticism to improve on his writing in the future.

His opinion that this made him look good actually didn’t. While I would have been somewhat skeptical of the review, his suggestion that he would do something about it said to me that he agreed with her. If, say, I had read his book and didn’t find it to be arrogant, I would be irritated. I’ve seen authors pander to their naysayers and throw their fans under the bus, and it not only comes off as insecurity, but ruins the storyline for those who already love it. Too many romance writers will take their charming jackass and magically change his personality or tell us that it was all an act all in hopes to satisfy those who found him unlikable and sexist. But those already burned aren’t placated, and those of us who enjoyed in the first place are now annoyed, our main interest in the book altered irrevocably.

His speedy agreement to improve his writing made me question his past desire to do so. Either it was superficially pandering, a promise he never intended on fulfilling which is disrespectful, or he did agree to her assessment, but why so quickly? His desire to respond to the review suggests a lack of experience in receiving criticism—he was obviously hurt and wanted the catharsis of replying. There was no other reason to do it. Most people will never know if you respond or not, and the honest truth is they don’t care. Unless they want to fight you, it’s not like they feel accomplished or grateful for your “Thank yous.” In fact, they don’t want to know that you’re lurking around reading everything. Don’t you have anything better to do?

If he had received criticism prior, they’d either talked about his arrogance, or they didn’t. If he had already been told he was arrogant, why didn’t he change it before? What was so special about this woman’s criticism that made him convinced now? It was unlikely that she had said something—by her criticism and his comment—that had finally broken the wall and forced him to fix it, which suggests the ‘he’s lying’ theory, or that he hasn’t been told any of this before. If he had gotten a lot of feedback and this was new, then I can’t imagine he’d take it so easily. When you’ve been critiqued a whole slew of times and someone comes up with something out of left field, it takes much longer to adjust to it. It is more likely that he hadn’t received much feedback on his work at all, and so his comments suggest, at best, inexperience over confidence.

When an author says that their writing is bad, I tend to take them at face value and assume it is. And that’s the best case scenario. It’s worse if I think you’re lying to seem humble or even if you just don’t have the taste to realize how not bad it is—which doesn’t bode well for the quality of your book in the end. How can you write well when you can’t tell what good writing is?

Of course we all have our biases against our own work, and it’s not uncommon for us to hate something simply because we made it. But while I don’t expect an author to always like what he’s done and sometimes we need to give our work to others before we can see the merit, it’s far more important for me as a reader to trust the writer knows what he’s doing; if he doesn’t think he does, why would I?

Be careful about announcing your insecurities publicly, whether that be to fans or critique partners. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you tell me that your book isn’t selling well, I’m not going to buy it, even though I know damn well that the reasons probably have less to do with quality and more to do with poor marketing. Yet I have so many options to read from, the chance that it is a good book with bad word-of-mouth isn’t high enough to make it worthwhile.

I have caught myself reading a poem or a piece of fiction online with no real opinion on it to only assume that it really is bad because the writer ended it by saying so. It also makes me question why they decided to share something with me that they didn’t think was to high standards.

When you write, you will be judged, but you will be far better to let them to their own devices than attempt to put your opinion in, especially if your opinion isn’t doing you any favors.

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