Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Maybe they won't notice because I don't

Once upon a time, I figured that if I was excited about my writing, others would be excited about my writing.

Boy that was a long time ago.

In other words, when the story went well for me, I felt I was safe from criticism. I didn't know that I wore blinders while I read the story. I had a lot invested in the idea that my vision was being realized and that I had magically (and it really feels like magic) transmitted my imagination onto the page in a form that someone else could read and have that world transported into their brain. Pretty kewl stuff. I was sure I'd succeeded.

Stopping here for a moment to make the observation that if you're too critical of your writing when you're writing a rough draft, it's not going to happen. That's the time to take chances, live the illusion, believe in your heart truly that your characters are awesome and the setting is deeper than you've ever written before and the plot rips along and everything you touch is gold. If you listen to the hecklers and internal editor and the peanut gallery and, please don't do this! have people reading and commenting on your work as you write then everything you write will probably turn to dust because it will be infused with fear and there will be no surprises. You can't write creatively, freely and deeply if you're unwilling or unable to take chances. The hunter can't get the deer if he's always looking over his shoulder and listening to his fellow hunters commenting on his hunting style.

End of aside.

But, when you're done with the first draft (yay, my favorite part!) then you need to schedule a time for reality to set in. Maybe it's on the second draft, although I personally like to have that to myself as well most (but not all) times. There must come a time when you need to sit back and look at your work with a critical eye, and sacrifice it to readers and then listen to their comments with a critical ear (not taking all their comments for gospel and yet allowing their opinions matter enough to spur you to change the manuscript for the better.) Because the editor will not be reading with a sense of enthusiasm. In fact many readers don't pick up published books today with much hope. They read the jacket and the opening and make a snap judgement. And their internal dialogue might be:

Oh gawd, not another vampire story.
Plot sounds okay, but we're opening with the character at breakfast and he's already whining about his day.
Gee, I thought this sounded like a high adventure on the back cover but we're starting off with the main character about to be married against her will to someone she's never met. ~That's original and adventurous.~
Hmmm, we're starting with an encyclopedia entry and a cast of characters. Does this mean I'll have to take notes to understand this book?

In other words, your work is naked, bare-assed naked out there. The reader doesn't care about you and has no interest in making you feel good, understanding you or anything else. The reader doesn't know you (although later they will claim to know you because they've read so many of your books, right?) They haven't read all your short stories and come to expect a certain quality. They don't know you're the master of the twist ending, or that if they let themselves sink into the setting it will feel real. In fact many of them aren't truly aware that the book was written by a person. They know intellectually that there are authors and they live in houses with families (or alone in a Victorian mansion with organ music drifting up from the basement) but subconciously the book seems to have been written by someone or something that lives at the publisher's warehouse. Then the book is printed and shipped out to bookstores on a regular basis, where it can be read and enjoyed or derided within the privacy of the reader's mind, and discarded or appreciated with no thought as to the writer's feelings. It's a mass-produced product not too different from the box of donuts a buyer picks up, a game they buy off the shelf and they have no vested interest in enjoying it. In fact, often they want an excuse not to buy it because if they don't then they can get a pizza instead. If they do buy it, they desperately want to be entertained in exchanged for their hard earned cash and their precious time--disappointment comes hard at today's paperback prices, never mind the hard cover.

How do you cope with that? How do you prepare your manuscript for that?

I'm still learning how, but I know it has nothing to do with the way I write the early drafts. I have to learn to notice the cliche's, where it drags, where the dialogue can be mocked while being read aloud at a campfire. True, anything, even good writing, can be mocked if spoken with a funny voice or read through the expectation is that it will be bad writing. But just as a reader will have a touch of faith that this book might be something they could really love, the writer has to have a touch of cynicism that this book isn't all it's cracked up to be in their minds. Their son may be a pretty good boy at home but he might be the school bully.

Writing a novel is a big, weird job, but I guess someone has to do it. Books will be written. Readers will love and/or hate them. May our powers of observation guide us well and help us create more books for readers to love.

6 comments:

Carole said...

This is SO good, it ought to be published as a non-fiction piece to one of the writing sites or magazines. Seriously.

And I need to keep all this in mind.

Ris said...

A lot of Kami's insights should be polished and considered for a writers publication. We should continually badger her about it until she does so!

Carole said...

She's a wuss if she doesn't.

(How was that? Too harsh?)

KamiZM said...

No, not too harsh. Just right!

Am not so a wuss! Am not am not am not!

So I'll polish this one up and see what happens. Be prepared to see it at a future INK meeting!

Take that! Ha!

Ris said...

Oh, we'll hold you to that!! Say, meeting after next?

Hee.

KamiZM said...

Meeting after next it is, then!

Now I just have to remember to do it ...

(Dashing off to garden)