I bookmarked this post yesterday to share at some point: Confessions of a Hate Reader…by Jeannette Ng and then realized today that Dean Wesley Smith has been talking about critical voice the last couple of days as well. Here and here. Also, this has been a bit of an ongoing discussion I’ve been having with a bunch of writer friends.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the most successful rule-breaking books are ones that were an author’s first book. Because often that book is written before a writer attends a bunch of writing conferences or joins writing forums or joins writer Twitter and is told what isn’t allowed or what’s passé. (Sparkling vampires? What are you thinking? English boarding school books? Been done before.)
It’s also before they’re actually published and have to contend with negative reviews of their work, some that are quite strongly-worded.
I wrote my first draft of my first novel in six weeks with no one else’s opinion involved. I’d been reading fantasy and other genres for thirty years so I knew basic story structure and I just did it. It wasn’t good. I had to revise it to make it work, but I did it because no one told me I couldn’t. And it went so fast because there were no road blocks in my mind about what I should or shouldn’t write.
I gave a character blue eyes, because I like blue eyes. I didn’t think if that was something that’s overdone. Or if it made me racist. I just wanted that character to have blue eyes.
But as I became more steeped in writing circles I found more and more criticism and objection to so many things. (Like characters with blue eyes.)
It wasn’t directed straight at me. It was directed at other books. But I heard it. I saw it.
They weren’t judging me directly, but they didn’t have to. I applied those judgments for them to my own words.
And eventually it stopped me from writing my next fantasy novel when I was about six books in. (Medieval settings are so boring…Who wants a love triangle…Am I just writing the same story again…Are my sentences and paragraphs too short…)
I pivoted to non-fiction for over a year.
And then I switched to writing cozies. A completely different genre.
I’d had a story idea for ages that I wanted to write, but honestly I think part of the reason I decided to write that series is because I hit my breaking point with all the criticism.
I figured if people were going to hate me for what I wrote I might as well be writing a version of myself onto the page so there’d be no ambiguity about who they hated. Hate that character, you’re going to hate me, too. We’re not identical, but we’re close enough for that to be the case.
I’ve always been okay with the fact that not everyone will like me and that for some of those people nothing I do will change that fact. I learned that lesson in middle school.
But I had to relearn it with my writing: Not everyone is my reader.
It’s not possible for everyone to be my reader. The world is too diverse for that. What someone loves about my writing, someone else will hate. That is a given. And the key I think to surviving as a writer is to either be like DWS and not care at all what anyone thinks or to focus on your readers and give them more of what they want and ignore the people who don’t want it.
(Which is hard to do. I don’t want my writing to cause harm to others. But if I want to keep writing at all, I have to at some point put those other voices aside and write my stories, flawed as they may be.)
Anyway. Something to think about. I’m off to finish the next non-fiction book. Haha.
One thought on “A Few Good Posts on Critical Voice”
I wrote my first book last year, and the same challenges you pointed out here were starting to weigh on me… until I looked at the news, and realized there’s far more destructive stuff being distributed in the name of “journalism” within a 24-hour news cycle, than I could possibly write in a lifetime. I’m working on book number two this year, and I’m not holding anything back!
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