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.