Saturday, January 7, 2012

Are you really as good as you think you are?


I've been sitting here contemplating this post all morning. Why? Because A. it's a rant and B. a few people may figure out that I'm talking about them and it's liable to make me pretty darned unpopular in some circles. So why am I going out on a limb and posting this? Simply because I can not take it anymore. For the past several days, every time I see certain posts on Facebook I want to tear my hair out. Instead, I've messaged a like-minded individual and we've commiserated. But some things need to be said aloud. Or, well, blogged.

I'm going to tell you, as a writer, what you absolutely must have. You may not agree with me, you may not even believe me. You're welcome to take my words with a grain of salt, since I am not a best-selling author or award-winning editor, yet. But I'm absolutely convinced that I'm telling the truth. I know it would be easier for some of you to rest comfortably in your little cocoons of fantasy, but it's reality check time.

What every good writer must have is an honest critique group. A solid core of people who are willing to tell you that your current work is shite and what you can do to improve it. No, I'm not talking about your friends, the ones who "oooh" and "awww" over every word you commit to paper. I'm not talking about the other writers in your groups who promote your work as though you were the next Stephen King in the simple hopes that you'll do the same for them. I'm talking about people who will give you an honest criticism and help make you a better writer. Because, let's face it, there's always room to improve.

Maybe you're thinking I'm crazy and that you are "good enough". You're making a little dough, you have people telling you you're brilliant (are they brilliant? Because only other brilliant people should be able to make that assessment truthfully), maybe you even have a nice, though by no means huge, fan base. Well, if you're comfortable with that, then continue on your way and continue to wonder why you never "make it big". "Good enough" should never be something we settle for. We should constantly be learning, improving our craft, and working towards something better. We owe that to ourselves and we owe that to our readers. And I'm not just talking the talk here, I'm walking the walk.

I never stop learning. I subscribe to magazines like Writer's Digest and the Writer. I purchase or get from the library books on writing. I peruse articles on the web about grammar and editing. I devote as much time to learning as I do to writing. Why? Because "good enough" is a phrase I never want to hear myself utter in conjunction with my work. I also have a core group of other writers and editors who I send my work to so they can kick me in the pants. Because there is always room for improvement. Always. And by the time I finally submit a piece, I know it is the best that it can be. Does that mean I'm always accepted? No. But at least I know I sent them my best possible work.

This post was inspired by several things. As you may or may not know, lots of writers offer their books for free around the holidays or right after or to push rankings or for many reasons. I've been downloading a lot of free indie books lately. Some have been fantastic, some not so much. A few are downright horrible. Generally, you'll find this when it's a newbie writer who didn't realize that they needed an editor. But what if it's not a newbie writer? What if it's a writer who has several books out and an editor (that title is debatable, however). And what if the book is so bad that I couldn't even finish it? That's bad. And I would've just resolved to stay away from the writer's books in the future, free or not. And figured that anyone who promoted this author was either a really bad writer themselves (yes, by association) or desperate.

I was not alone in my judgement of the book. Reviewers who were not a part of the writing community tended to agree with me. And what happened then? Other writers in the community flocked to offer solace and insult the reviewer. Hmmm. And this is what made me think.

There are so many things I love about the Indie community. The way writers and small presses support each other, from sharing marketing strategies to buying and reviewing each other's books. But there are a few things I specifically do not like about the Indie community. Bad writers tops the list. Bad editors may even be worse. But enablers definitely makes the list. What is an enabler? Every single person who tells that writer that they are good. Every reviewer who does not give an honest review.  Every person who boosts this poor writer's ego by pandering to them. Stop the insanity people. If you want to be a good friend, then be honest. Help that writer grow.

Don't get me wrong, everyone seeks the admiration of their peers. Everyone wants to be the "cool kid" that gets the accolades and pats on the back from their many friends. But don't you also want to impress readers and grow your fan base? The only way to do that is take those bad reviews and learn from them. Accept that the reviewer may have a point and it may be time to change editors and re-visit your work with a keener eye and open mind. Listen to what the readers are saying, not just your friends and associates. Readers drive sales, not other writers. They're the ones whose opinion matters most.

I hope that I haven't offended anyone, but I also hope that I opened some eyes.

♥Stacey

16 comments:

Jezri said...

Agreed. And I am one that knows I need to improve and plan on going back through older work and revise some things, now that I have learned a bit more. Tuesday, I will be talking about that on my blog. I have come to not trust 5 star reviews...for the most part. There are some that earn it, but others that are obvious suckups. I would rather have one honest one...(I got 2 at Christmas) that tells me what works and what doesn't and what can be improved, than one that doesn't mention the huge elephant in the room. If I read a review that is 3 or 4 stars, I will still buy it, if it sounds interesting, but at least I am not surprised when the formating is messed up, or errors are found. If anyone gets upset with you, that is their problem. Your honesty is something I have always liked.

RL.Treadway said...

I have so many future blog post rants on this I can't even start them. lol. Grammar and formatting errors can be learned and fixed. Bad writing? It requires work to improve. I have read way too many Indie books lately that lack solid, cohesive plot structures - do way more telling than showing and the writing is flat due to passive writing, but the grammar was "spot on". I'd rather read a damn good story with some fixable mistakes than a piece of shite that's grammatically correct and makes no sense. Good post! GREAT post, actually. People need to stop sucking up or flattering another writer's ego - this is a craft yes, but it's a business too.

Claudia Lefeve said...

As my editor, I thank you for this post. I have been struggling with this issue for months now! I worry that folks have told my work is good...but is it? I know I have LOTS to learn and I hope it's reflected in my second book (which is why it's taking a bit longer to write). I recently received a 3 star review and you know what? I honestly appreciated it because it really wasn't a bad review, but she definetly made some good points that I will work on. I also got a 2 star because one reader didn't like one scene...

It's hard for writers to find those readers/groups that are honest.

Spot said...

Ladies, I enjoy working with all of you. Rebecca because you kick my butt and everyone else's. I don't think you have a deceptive bone in your body. It's always straight talk and I appreciate it.

Lisa, you are fantastic to work with. You take constructive criticism well, you listen to your reviewers and you know when to ask for help. And you have the most vivid imagination. I love your story lines.

Claudia, I had to go read those reviews. I laughed at the two star one. I don't agree with the three star one, it is a young adult novel, young adults think differently than adults and I think the reviewer may have forgotten that. You were a joy to work with on this book. And the very fact that you worry means you are also not one of the people I'm talking about. I wasn't paying you lip service- I bought three copies of your book at Christmas. One for myself to put on my "I edited" shelf. One for my sister and daughter to share and one for my niece. I don't give gifts of bad literature. Your book is good.

Stacey

Blaze McRob said...

I agree with the consensus here, Stacey: this is a great post! I have been bombarded lately with requests for reviews and I don't like to lie. Does make it tough. Honesty is the only way a person will grow. As many books as I've written, I know I still have a lot to learn. We all do. Truth be known: I think of myself as a storyteller. If my story doesn't grab a reader, I've failed. i intend to spotlight this post on Angelic Knight Press. This is a story that must be told!

Blaze

SueMydliak said...

I agree with you one hundred percent!
I'll admit it, my writing isn't all that great, I have my grammar issues and I saved ALL my english books from college because they are a wealth of information. So I am still learning and probably until the day I die I will not be the perfect author, but I'll take whatever critique I can get on my writing and value it as the best gift anyone could ever give me.
So, thank you Stacey for your advice and edits, you are awesome girl!

Daenira said...

I greatly appreciate this post. As someone who has just recently finished a novel I have given it to a few people I trust to read. I would hate for them to just tell me they love it. That does not help me improve my craft. I am also trying to support other authors and so far I have loved their books, but I just know there is going to come a time when reading a single page reminds me of nails on chalkboards. I will remember your words then. Sometimes you have to be honest if you want to help others succeed.

pamatthews said...

Stacey;

Thank you so much for addressing this issue. With the onslaught of voting now going on for P & E, I again wonder about those writers who beg for votes yet their books aren't good and shouldn't earn our vote, yet we almost feel obligated since we want to support indie writers.

I rarely feel my material is five star worthy, though I aim for the best it can be with the knowledge I currently possess. At this point I would rather have someone tell me my work stinks (they will hopefully do this privately rather than in a public arena) and advise where or what I need to change to make the story as close to stellar as it can get. I suffer from roaming comma syndrome.

Frankly, I don't think much work can truly be considered a five star since much is based on the reader's perception of the work, as with any art form. If I got solid threes and fours and the people honestly liked the work but gave me improvements I would take that information and run with it. That gives me something toward which to strive. If I begin with a five that sets up a false ego and then I won't learn and decay in my own perceived notion I'm that good.

Thanks again for a great post. More people need to read this and reliquish their egos to the trash bin and begin anew, striving to put out good material, not just how many stories they can write in a week.

Patricia/E. A. Irwin

Cindy Keen Reynders said...

Stacey, I'm now going to think of you as "The Brave One" because you have taken the time to write about this situation. This phenomena has been really bothering me, so much so that I actually got a little overwhelmed recently. I began to wonder if you need to have a circle of people who kiss up to you and promote your work whether or not it's good. I do not have this, nor will I seek it out, but it's had me in quandary about what to do. I have found websites that will promote your books for a fee, therefore, if you've got the dough, they'll talk you up whether or not you've got a quality title. Frankly, I'm not interested. I've decided I just need to put out good, well written and well researched books and allow readers who like my stuff to spread the word. I don't know how it will work out, and I'm sure I won't be able to quit my day job any time soon. But it's honest and I won't have to ride the crazy hamster wheel trying to one up my fellow writers. I am passionate about improving my work and I constantly challenge myself to try and make it better. I totally respect writers, and people in other professions, who do that and refuse to rest on their laurels. To me, that is ethical. Thank you for dealing with this touchy subject and telling it like it is. And I intend to share this!

Cindy Keen Reynders said...

Hey Stacey,

Come over to my blog and collect your "Great Comments Award." It's well deserved! http://saucylucywisdom.blogspot.com/

John Wiswell said...

It's natural to want a cheerleader; even bestselling authors tend to have that one alpha who helps give them the excitement to continue. It might even be natural to want everyone to be your cheerleaders. I've never expected that, though, and actively seek out writers who are better at certain aspects of craft to keep me honest and improving.

You're right that this is more of a rant than an essay, and so not as persuasive or observant as I'd like. As someone who's not deluded into thinking he's an all-time great, I was motivated to skim the accusations. But you make a few strong observations, particularly in the activity of nigh-hobbyist cliques who will embellish for the author, and offend on his or her behalf. I'm mostly relieved that I have fans that love some of what I do, but will voice when they don't grasp something or find a shortcoming.

Kate Monroe said...

Stacey,

A brave and well-written blog post! Honest critique and feedback is worth its weight in gold, but I think there's nothing worse than sycophantic praise that blinds an author to where their work can be improved.

The authors who refuse to see that and reject anything less than glowing praise are doing both themselves and their readers a disservice.

Keep up the good work!

Kate.

Adriana Noir said...

Well-said, Stacy! The people I have come to love and respect the most are the ones who are honest enough to tell me when something is not up to par and point out mistakes. Those are the people I want to keep around as editors and beta readers.
Writers have family and friends to tell them how wonderful they are. Readers will not be as kind. We are the ones who owe them, not the other way around. The truth may hurt, but it's vital!
The day anyone stops trying to learn and improve as a writer is the day they should close up shop. good enough doesn't cut it, and there are plenty of writers out there hungry to be the best they can!

Spot said...

Honestly, I didn't expect this post to get quite this much attention, but I'm glad it did. Unfortunately I think the main offenders are the ones who didn't read it, lol.

And thank you, John, for illustrating my point. And being willing to say that I could have written my post better. I think you hit the nail on the head. It is clique-y, like high school. Sadly, I've even observed that in the upper echelons-- the bestseller groups. Some of them have bad writing days too, and I've yet to see them called on it by anyone but the readers.

Thank you all for reading and commenting and tweeting! I'm glad you got something out of my post and we've opened up a dialogue about holding each other responsible and honesty.

Stacey

Blaze McRob said...

YAY FOR STACEY AND EVERYONE WHO COMMENTED!

Blaze

glenkrisch said...

Well said! I wish I could name names and warn readers about the poor writing skills of some indies I've read. I wouldn't dare do this, since I know what the result would be: the messenger would be shot.