Thursday, January 23, 2014

Some more tough love.

Sigh... seems like I can't stay away from this post. And it might get me into some trouble. So yeah. Please be warned that if it isn't quite a full-on rant, it's pretty rant-like.

Especially since it's a bit hard to put my thoughts into words without sounding smug or anything else horrible.

But, I took on this writing gig with honesty and helping writers in mind, so... here we go.

*takes a deep breath*

We, as writers have to take responsibility for the quality of our writing.

I'm not talking about the rough draft. Hell. Go nuts with your drafting. Chase plot bunnies with wild abandon. Be dedicated by your muse's whims. Let your characters direct your way. And experiment, experiment, experiment. This is what rough drafts are for.

But at some stage a writer who wants a successful career needs to put his/her pro writer pants on. This means facing that what you'd written isn't perfect. And that some of what you've written needs work.

Or that something you loved has to go, because it's weakening the story.

It also means not being a pretentious prick who puts "intentions" before quality. Honestly, I as a reader can't give a damn what you intended. I only know what I see, and if it's not working, it's not working. I won't be the only one. So the way I see it, a writer has the option to either make his intentions come across the right way by adapting his writing, or to leave it. But don't blame readers for not understanding your intentions if your writing isn't up to standards.

Always know that if you're keeping some aspect to a story despite what crit partners and editors say, that you made that call. Someone will notice, and you might get nailed in some review.

The other day, I talked about a book that was hampered by too much dialogue with too little description. Someone commented that I can't say those things because the writer probably intended something with writing so little description.

I'm sorry, but having literary intentions does not exempt us writers from critique. In fact, it sets us up for it more. Readers can't read the writer's mind. They can only read what's there in the book. If you got so fixated on speeding up the pace that you didn't realize that all dialogue pulls readers out of stories, I'm sorry, that's your responsibility as the writer.

It's the same with intending to write a message into your story. I've addressed the issue multiple times, to huge consternation in some factions of the YA community in particular. I'm not rehashing that, but what I am saying now is that if you put the clarity and strength of your message before the strength of your story, you will be nailed again and again. Don't blame the readers.

YOU made that decision. 

Editing is all about decisions. Cut this. Keep that despite what everyone says. Accept or disregard advice. I'm not saying that reviewers bullying writers are right. That's also a post for another day.

What I'm saying is that we're writers. We're story tellers. At the heart of it, those stories always remain ours first, but we're responsible for what we put out there. Own that responsibility.

Stop hiding behind your intentions. Stop blaming readers. Sit your ass down and take a hard look at what you wrote. If you find your opinion still differs from the criticism, graciously disregard it. But don't do it because "they just don't get it."

Do it "because I made that call and I knew not everyone would like it".

Taking responsibility for quality is a sign of excellence.

Blaming others is a symptom of weakness.

Which do you prefer to be?


  1. This is great, truly it is. Tough love indeed but necessary. This reminds me of a lot of stuff I had to critique at university. You're right-intentions do not a great story make. What is it they say? "The road to hell is paved with good intentions?" We have to make decisions, concrete decisions in our writing. We can't intend to go somewhere and hope the reader follows. We have to consciously take them there.

    Thank you,

  2. Taking responsibility is the way to go. Great post!


  3. Yup, gotta take responsibility not only in our writing but in our lives. It can be a tough call, but who else is going to do it? And when we DO make that call, we have to be willing to let accept the consequences. :)

  4. Excellence. What, I do. But you determine your own work.

  5. If you don't take responsibility for your actions no one else will. Great post xxx

  6. Yep. Do you want to be just a writer or do you want to be a professional writer--putting out stories other not only 'want to' but actually do read and enjoy?

  7. Own your stuff. That is true in every aspect of life... including writing.

  8. I can definitely relate to this post, and I think your argument is completely correct. I've been frustrated by more than one story that had a good premise but went wrong somehow, either due to the characters or the writing that should have been revised; it made me feel like it could have been a lot better than it was.

  9. I don't see why you would worry about getting into trouble with this post. It's true on so many levels.

    If the reader didn't get what you intended, then maybe that reader is not who you were writing for (which is OK), or maybe you didn't convey your intentions well enough (which is your problem). In no way is the reader to blame.

  10. Brilliant post, and so true! I stumble across these things all the time while editing, and it's really hard when the writer doesn't understand why certain changes need to be made.

    Sometimes, I think it's about experience. At first, any criticism is HARD to take, but after a while, it should get easier. If it doesn't... writing might not be the best career path!

  11. Hi Misha .. seems like you've struck a chord here - and I'm sure I'd agree .. anything that doesn't pull me in gets put to one side, I need to be engaged.

    It does as Karen says apply to life too .. asking for help or advice isn't easy at the best of times, as we think we know ... but we need to do it - or be critiqued for our work, we need to ask and then accept their judgement ... we can incorporate it or ignore it .. but at least be polite to think about it .. and acknowledge it's an area that you need to look into ...

    So true .. I hope those figs are being put to good use, and I gather the temperature over there is hot!! Cheers Hilary

  12. The skydiver INTENDED on opening his parachute. . .

  13. Readers have different tastes, so while some might love loads of dialogue, others won't like it at all. That's OK - as writers we can't please everyone and as readers we're perfectly entitled to our opinions and preferences.

    What's not OK is to blame the reader for disliking our work, or worse to criticise the way they read it.

  14. I agree with you on that blaming others is a sign of weakness.

  15. I wrote a book I knew not everyone would like. So far I've only seen one reviewer openly hate it. And she's entitled to her own opinion. However, I did think she went too far with it, but as you said that's another topic.

  16. Even if the writer "intended something" with all that dialogue, if the point wasn't clarified, then the purpose failed. I've read some books I really didn't like the MC for a good part of the book, but stuck with it to see if there was a purpose. Sure enough, the author excelled at developing the character into someone I understood. Still didn't like the character; but that was also done with specific intent, and done well.

    But, not everyone "got" the message imparted in the story. Readers are entitled to their opinions, ad you can't please everyone.


  17. Intentions not laid out are no use to a reader.

  18. "But at some stage a writer who wants a successful career needs to put his/her pro writer pants on."


  19. How true! Taking responsibility is certainly the way to go!
    Awesome post, BTW!

  20. Literary intentions that aren't clear are like artists who paint new age abstract art - people just aren't going to get it. And it's pretentious to claim there's a deep meaning behind it, because if no one gets it, then it's as good as no meaning.

  21. My CPs and I are sticklers about craft and crit each other hard. But there are plenty of people who don't care about rules. They self-pub their books with barely any editing. And who can say they're wrong? The things I see selling the most on Amazon are the lowest priced books -- not the best written books.

  22. I totally agree with you. I've been in too many conversations lately about how writers shouldn't review other writers unless they are giving a 5 star (or whatever the top star is) review. To me, there is no point in reviewing a book if you are only going to do it to bolster someone's feelings or sales. I want honest reviews, as should all writers, in my opinion. Sadly, many take offense when the suggestions could improve their writing.

  23. I take my CPs and my editor's opinion into account and really think them over. I usually address all the issues that are brought up before the book goes to press. For that reason, I don't read reviews after the book is in print because I know there will be readers who won't like my book, but I wrote the book I wanted and I'm okay with that.

  24. Tough love, but definitely to the point. It's good to hear this now and then to bring you back to earth. I'd be a liar to claim I was an amazing writer, but it's also about taking the steps to become one and listening to others around you for critique. Great point and great post.

  25. Very, very well said. Honestly, the thing that scares me most about the rise of self publishing is that so many authors seem to think editors and crit partners are only there to fix grammar and give warm fuzzies. EVERY story need an objective, tough-loving, experienced editor to make sure that the author's intentions come across to the reader.

    And yes, its fine for an author to balk at advice - but then they should own the thing and not whine when readers call them out on it.

  26. Good tough love, Misha. It's all true, and worthy of mention. I think I'll always have a hard time with honest critique. Fortunately, I have critique friends who know this about me. It doesn't stop them from being honest, but they are conscious about pouring on the encouragement too. I'm very lucky. Tough love is received best when the loving is detected.



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