… Or anywhere, for that matter.
I get a lot of emails from people who want to be writers themselves. Mostly, they tend to ask for advice – as if I knew something that would make anyone who possessed it an automatic success. And what I do, because I got help from other writers myself when I started, is explain that the only key to any success in writing is hard work.
I learned two things, in particular, from Eric Flint.
One – writing requires practice. You have to write at least a million words before you have anything that is even remotely readable. Yes, really. I cringe at the thought of my readers looking at some of my early works.
Two – writing requires a form of double-think (the ability to believe two things that contradict one another.) The writer must believe that his work is the greatest piece of literature since Oliver Twist … and, at the same time, must believe that his work is not worthy of being used as toilet paper, let alone publication.
Why? The writer must have the confidence to enter the writing world and, at the same time, understand that he or she has a great deal of work to do. No writer is EVER capable of judging his own work. Writers can miss the major problems and the minor problems, simply because they know what the book is supposed to say. That’s why a decent critic – and an editor – is a MUST for any writer who seriously intends to write. They can make the difference between a publisher considering your manuscript or kicking it out the door, without even bothering to write sarcastic comments.
In the past, writers were dependent on publishing companies to get published. The publishers provided a barrier between the general public and the hundreds of pieces of simply awful writing that were sent in by hopeful authors. Kindle (and other e-book publishers) has changed all that, at least to some extent. Anyone can publish on Kindle …
As I’ve noted before, the good news is that anyone can publish on Kindle; the bad news is that anyone can publish on Kindle. This causes problems because young authors who haven’t worked for years developing their writing start trying to sell their wares. When they do, they get attacked – sometimes savagely – by readers who don’t feel any obligation to soften the blow.
Obligations? Most people – me included – have problems being critical to our friends and family. I see something they’ve done and I bite down the urge to point out that its crappy. A writer’s mother – for example – probably won’t make critical remarks, even if the story is thoroughly awful. Anyone else, however, will certainly struggle to restrain themselves from making caustic remarks – “why the hell are you wasting your time doing this when you can’t even spell ‘cat’?” The unwary writer, expecting plaudits, may find himself hammered by a through dissection of just WTF is wrong with his work.
This hurts. Unless you’re a complete hack, your writing is your heart and soul. Having someone come up to you and make unpleasant remarks about your baby doesn’t make you want to listen, it makes you want to punch them in the face, then do unspeakable things to their corpse. Or, perhaps, you want to explain to them, in great detail, why they’re wrong – or to defend your work to the bitter end.
This is essentially pointless. There are two types of critic; the helpful dude and the troll. The former will not feel inclined to continue to help you if you reject his advice so openly (even if he’s wrong, he’s got the wrong idea because of something YOU wrote); the troll gets his jollies from forcing you to work yourself into a tizzy over his words. You are merely feeding his sick ego when you rant and rave on the internet over how someone doesn’t get your work – and feeding trolls is stupid, in any online forum.
The real trick, of course, is learning to tell the difference. I always tell myself not to respond to negative remarks, but to consider what is actually being said. Someone who offers useful feedback – “this word is spelt wrong” – is a helpful dude; someone who doesn’t offer useful feedback is a troll. Thank the former, ignore the latter.
I mention this because there has been a spat of comments on one of the facebook groups I frequent, concerning a particularly unpleasant piece of work. Now, that alone would not be worthy of comment. Kindle has seen more than its fair share of works that are over-priced, poorly edited, worse researched, badly formatted, given horrible covers, plagiarised (and copied from other works produced by the author, which may not be plagiarism per se), etc, etc.
However, the author – who has the same attitude to his works as other authors – has been responding badly to criticism. He has insisted that his reviewers are trolls, cited the opinions of his friends (and at least one person who may not exist) and refused to believe that they’re actually pointing out very real problems with the book. Worse, he has spammed Amazon with samples of his book and tried to game the rating system. (And one reviewer has written a 5-star review that is anything, but.) Readers have not responded very well to his defence.
This has always left me with mixed feelings. I have never believed that an author should be above criticism, particularly when they produce works like … well, SONICHU. (About which the less said, the better.) On the other hand, there are times when the barrage of criticism (even when not actual trolling) becomes unbearably akin to bullying. I’ve had moments in my writing career when I felt backed into a corner by trolls, even when some of those trolls were probably making sensible remarks. Whose side should I be on?
Well, that of common sense, of course.
Writers need thick skins. At the same time, they need to understand that critics are the most valuable resource a writer can have. There’s nothing to be gained, as I have said above, in treating the critic as a troll.
So … if you want to write seriously, listen to the critics.