Weekly Musing: Book It!

Nope, not talking about the awesome program from the ’80s/’90s where you read a certain amount of books and got to go Pizza Hut (I think that was it) and make your own little personal pan pizza. I loved that program. Combine reading with food and I’m there.

What this week’s musing is inspired by is something I attend once a month: A book club. This is the first time I’ve ever been in a book club but it was something I always wanted to. Thanks to the internet I was able to find more than one. I tried a couple of others before settling on the one I regularly attend.

I really enjoy my book club. Our focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, or horror books. This isn’t unusual since most book clubs are centered on a particular theme. The people are fairly smart, someone brings baked goods (again food + book = good times), people’s t-shirts are interesting, and it’s just neat being around a group of people where we have at least one thing in common. I enjoy listening to other people’s thoughts about the book regardless of if I agree with people’s opinions or not. I enjoy the thought provoking questions asked by the group’s leader which usually revolve around issues today.

Yet for all the positives I get out of it, lately I’m beginning to wonder, as a writer, if it is good for me. I think it’s just my own neurosis but when I listen to what the average reader thinks of the story, the characters, the writing style, what have you, I start to wonder. Wonder about people’s critical thinking skills and if some people really, truly cannot grasp the idea of something must be impossible because it doesn’t jive with how they understand the world and therefore it’s a failure of the author. Heaven forbid the reader take some responsibility to think a little harder or admit “Hey, I just don’t get it.” I’ll readily admit I don’t get what authors are doing sometimes.

I guess as a writer and knowing authors I get a little bit defensive. Especially when I hear a reader criticizing a male author for trying something new like having a female main character and not writing her ‘feminine enough’ and that he should stick to what he knows. Or people not understanding that when the story shifts to a different character that the writing style should naturally change. What I mean by this is the grammar of the character changes, speaking and thought style, and how the character views their world. Some people apparently can’t appreciate this and quickly launch into how the author is a bad writer for doing this. I guess they prefer all their characters to sound exactly the same regardless of life experiences and origins.

At times this mentality gets to me as I’ll sometimes examine my own work and my own ideas and wonder if the average reader will ‘get’ it. Should I trust a story with ugly, unlikeable characters as the focus when it feels that so many average readers don’t like that? Will a reader truly understand the aim at realism which means the good, the bad, the ugly, and the uncomfortable?  Does the average reader care about subtext and depth a good story should have?

Granted some of this is dependent upon genre and the expected tropes but I see online people up in arms over an author who dares to defy those tropes! Again, I think a lot of these thoughts and worries are a byproduct of my naturally anxious nature. It’s one of those things where I know intellectually to stay true to the story and the characters and the audience will be there for my work (hopefully). Or to not care if everyone gets it because not everyone will. I certainly don’t as a reader. Yet emotionally, and because of the chemicals which make up my personality, I want people to completely understand and appreciate nuances a writer has puts into a work. When someone doesn’t, it irritates me.

So are book clubs a good thing for a writer to attend? Those writers with thicker skins and who can separate the reader you vs. writer you, then yes. If you can’t, then perhaps not. For me I need to work more on just enjoying the discussions as a reader and leave the writer on the pages it is needed on.


Weekly Musing: If Writing Has Taught Me One Thing, It’s Taught Me…

I love watching and listening to the interviews Bill Kenower conducts on Besides asking questions that show he has read the book the author is promoting as well as general writing questions, he always asks at the end of the interview ‘If writing has taught me one thing, it’s….’

This is my absolute favorite question. I look forward to the author’s answer because you can see the hamster running around the wheel in their mind as they ponder it. It’s fun watching the expression on the author’s face change. Up until that question, the author is usually relaxed and exhibits confidence in their answers. They are talking about the book after all; it’s easy to discuss where the idea came from, the process, what you’ve learned. But when that one question comes up, it’s Whoa! The uhs and ums come out. The writer breaks eye contact to stare at the ceiling, perhaps willing the deity of their choice to quickly inspire them. It’s a fascinating bit of people watching.

I love this question because as a new writer it’s illuminating hearing the answers. Many authors cite writing has taught them to be patient, persistent, and to have confidence in their abilities. Others have cited writing has taught them how to be a better person in that they are more aware of the world around them, to treat people better, and to listen more. Another common answer is writing has taught them to be themselves, to be comfortable, and confident in who they are.

I must admit, depending upon the interview I’ve just heard or watched I find myself changing my own answer. I guess it’s because the answers provided get me thinking about how the author came to that conclusion.

So if I ever get the privilege, this is how I would answer it, at least at this point:

If writing has taught me one thing, it has taught me to stand up for myself. Being a writer is what I feel like I was meant to be. Being able to express myself also means exposing myself to criticism. This has been both good and bad but what has amazed me is how I’ve been able to handle it. If someone has a constructive criticism, I can choose to entertain their comments or ignore them, sticking to my story how it is written if that is what I as a writer feel comfortable with. When it has come to the other kind of criticism, I have yet to back down from my work. I know what the intention of my piece is and what the thought process was behind it. If someone finds it offensive, that’s fine but I simply don’t see the need to apologize.

This is vastly different from my approach in other areas of my life. Normally I would be upset and feel a lot of guilt at causing anger in someone. I would apologize even when the cause was not something I did that was harmful. Just a matter of one person taking exception to something even when there was no malicious intent. But as I’ve taken writing more seriously, I find myself slowly able to stand up for myself. I don’t get defensive or unnecessarily apologetic as much. I remain calm and if there is something I should genuinely apologize for, then I do.

It’s funny to think that a profession such as writing, one where the writer is subject to all kinds of comments, criticisms, and analysis, that it could actually improve one’s self-esteem. Writers are told to develop a thick-skin. I used to think that referred to putting on a brave face in public and accepting quite quickly not everyone will like your work. Instead I’ve learned developing a thick-skin isn’t simply referring to one’s work but one’s life as well.


Weekly Musing: Don’t Feed the Gremlins

Gremlins. Demons. Inner critic. Trolls. Whatever you call it all writers suffer from some sort of self-doubt. That annoying, nagging voice that does nothing but kill productivity and attempts to murder creativity. I refer to mine as gremlins and I like to think of them as resembling what happens to Gizmo if you feed him after midnight or get him wet. Yeah, that’s what sits on my shoulders whispering acid into my ears and scratches at my legs and arms. I hate those things and wish I had a flamethrower to incinerate them. Yet if I did get rid of them, they’d come back like a sequel.

They come to me at all stages of writing and on days I’m struggling with finding just the right words. I’ve had them pop up as I do research. They love that stage. Jumping around questioning me about the time period, is that where I really want a character to be from, look like, and dress. They pop up during just brainstorming. Their favorite phrases are “Um, that’s your idea? That’s crap! No one wants to read that!” As I start a rough draft, they dance around second guessing word choices, the story itself (again), dialogue, and did I mention the story?

But that’s just the beginning. There have been many, many days when I have been editing my work, the time you need your inner critic, when the gremlins start becoming destructive. Their words go beyond constructive criticisms to berating my abilities and dreams. These are the most frustrating and upsetting times for me as a writer. If I can’t figure out how to contain the gremlins, things can quickly spiral downhill.

So what do I do with deal with these bastards? The first thing I try is to refer to my list of 13 Commandments. It used to be 10 then became 12 and recently ballooned to 13. I need a lot of self-reassurance. These help remind me that what I am experiencing is temporary and will go away.

If that doesn’t work, then I turn to my spouse and vent to him. Since he’s not a writer, he doesn’t quite understand why I go through these phases and as frequently as I do but he does his best to be supportive through listening. Unfortunately I can’t ever promise him this will be the last time.

And sometimes the best thing for me is to just let the gremlins come and do their thing until they tire themselves out. I don’t mean to suggest I actually listen to them. What I mean is I allow them to talk but instead of fighting back, wasting all my mental energy, they are given time before (hopefully) slinking away.

Yet even though I know all writers suffer from gremlins, demons, whatever, I still think I can somehow prevent their appearance. I’ve always had a philosophy of learn from other people’s mistakes. That hasn’t worked with my writing gremlins. I can read articles and interviews by fellow writers on how they deal. None of them have ever mentioned how to get rid of them because there is no way to get rid of them. No matter what level of personal success a writer enjoys, the gremlins are never satisfied so don’t feed them and don’t encourage their greedy appetite.