We also live in a society that believes in not speaking the truth to spare everyone’s feelings, being politically correct whether it’s right or not whether we agree or not, and where we don’t have to accept personal responsibility, especially for stupidity. We like to sue and we like to lay blame. We also teach our kids that there isn’t a winner or a loser because they’re all winners. Well, no they aren’t. There’s a winning team and a losing team. Just look at the scoreboard.
So what does this have to do with writing? Everything. Because most people will tell you that the most valuable lessons they’ve learned are from either losing, failing at something, hearing the bad along with the good, or being broken and having to pick themselves back up. I can’t disagree. If all you hear is praise, how do you handle the rejection when it comes, the loss when it happens, because I’m sorry, life isn’t all roses and eventually you’re going to experience some form of disappointment. It doesn’t always do it gently either. Most of the time, it kicks you in the ass or pulls a Gibbs and smacks you upside the head…
We all have expectations in this business, whether the writer, the editor, the publisher, the blogger, the reviewer, or the reader. And you know what? No one person can please all those different people. The pressure is daunting. We all make mistakes. We all have our own opinions. We all have our ideals and thoughts of how things should go, but they don’t often go the way we dreamed.
So, how does an author pick themselves up and dust themselves off when readers are vocal about disappointment, when reviewers say they like this book a little less than the last one, when editors send out that rejection, when publishers give you more WTF moments than you know what to do with, when everyone around you is succeeding and you seem to be floundering, or when you’re having a bad day because your characters won’t fucking get to the point and do what you want them to do?
I don’t know. I don’t know how others do it. The all-knowing ‘They’ say you’re supposed to have or develop a thick skin but if we shrug everything off, what have we learned? Nothing. At least I haven’t. And if there’s something I love, whether it’s painful or not, I love to learn. I can learn from my missteps and those unkind, hurtful words. I can learn from being heartbroken and cast aside. I can learn from tears. And I can change. Is it a change to please others? No. It’s a change to a different way of thought, a little more conscious effort. I can learn to get out of my own way. And that’s not a bad thing. Growth and change and learning. Sure, I’d like praise all the time, but I’m not going to get it. I’ve learned that lesson. But I keep trying. I keep trying and doing something different and learning and growing as an author. I may lose people along the way, but I may gain others. And those I lose, are probably not who I was aiming for in the first place. (this is something I am sort of learning in the book I’m currently reading ‘The Power of Unpopular‘)
Emotions are messy. Life is messy. I don’t write fluff and I don’t want to. I write wishy-washy characters because damn, that’s life and at some point we’re all going to be scared to take that chance. I write odd and aloof characters because damn, they exist. I have several friends who are odd and aloof and I adore them for it. I don’t want to write easy. I want to write what’s pulled from my gut and what’s painful. There will be people who don’t want to read that. That’s fine. It’s part of doing what we do. We can’t please everyone. It’s how we handle it that tells our strength, or so a friend of mine told me during a recent conversation about loss.(Thank you, Fallon.)
So maybe a thick, let it roll off the back skin works for most. It doesn’t work for me. It pisses me off, it hurts, it makes me growl and grump, and it makes me really think about what I’ve done and if I’d change it knowing what I know after… If I say no, I wouldn’t change it, then I know I’ve done something right, even if others don’t agree with me.
I read craft books. I read self-help books. I read happy books and books that come from people’s deepest, darkest souls. I learn and I grow and I change. I fix what I consider mistakes and I keep going on. I read blogs about how other authors deal with these same issues. I sometimes pour over them for hours. And in the end, we all have the same opinion. We’re all different and we’re all entitled to how we think, how we feel, how we deal… Will it make us better or make us worse?
At the same time, I’m also a reader. There are authors who write the same book day in and day out and only change the names of the characters, but are given the highest praise time and again. As a reader, that bores me and I have stopped reading some of my favorite authors because of that. Then, I have loved authors who left the initial genre they started in and I didn’t like the change in either voice or genre and stopped reading them (the new stuff at least. I always give it a try, though). Authors have had medical conditions which changed them and their writing was no longer the same and it saddened me that I could no longer read the books I loved from them because they weren’t going to be writing them anymore. It happens. Not only in writing but in acting. A favorite actor will no longer do drama or comedy or act at all. It happens in music and a favorite musician will go more country or more rock or go inspirational or just stop altogether. Change happens and it’s not always what we as readers or watchers or listeners want.
I want books that make me feel something other than ‘that was a good book, but nothing I haven’t already read from her or him or them’.
Some things force change, force learning, force growth, and force us out of our comfort zones. Maybe most don’t think about this. Maybe most don’t want to because it’s sticky and messy…and not in the fun way. I do and eventually, I think it’ll make me a better writer. It’s part of how I do what I do…