by John Little
I provide commentary (and hopefully insight) on my experiences as a writer.
Writing is a community activity; minimally, there is a writer and a reader and — most importantly — the transmission of ideas, albeit in one direction only.|
At Writing.com, we have the opportunity to reverse that direction and make this a real conversation.
I am starting this blog to provide a third way of looking at that conversation between writer and reader, a meta-conversation, if you will. This is not a place to review works, but a place to review the communication between writer and reader. It is not my intent to critique the critics; I will not be providing specifics unless necessary. But I think it is important, especially for new writers like myself, to see that the relationship between writing and reviewing is not necessarily one-directional either. We all learn by doing and making mistakes. I make a ton of them. Sometimes I disagree when something is called a mistake but is, in my opinion, a misinterpretation by the reviewer.
Ultimately, of course, the writer bears the responsibility for writing prose that does not get misinterpreted.
I hope you find this useful.
|I have been writing shorts and flash fictions here for about a month. The amount of writing — completed writing — I have accomplished amazes me. I have spent decades, er, years trying my hand at writing but have little to show for it. Part of the problem is my focus, what my goals have been. There are several 'Great American Novels' floating in my head and the hard drive is filled with notes and ideas and characters and backgrounds and pieces of those stories.
But the Novel is a beast.
I like finishing things; or, rather, I like being finished. Finishing one novel is finishing one, and only one, task. There is so much work involved getting from the starting gate to the finish line. Yes, breaking down large jobs into smaller tasks opens the door to experiencing more 'task fulfillment'. But those are artificial fulfillments. The maw of that Great Beast is still agape.
This past month, I have written, I have finished about a dozen stories, each stand on their merits, each have their own beginning, middle, and end.
Each is a 'job done'. There has been a tremendous satisfaction getting here from there. And now, I am writing sequels and prequels and parallel stories in each of these uniquely different universes.
It is quite enthralling and exciting.
So. Readjusting my long term goals is necessary — "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results." Reorganizing my Portfolio into books of collected and related short stories, filling these books with vignettes that build upon each other but are still separate stories, is my goal now.
The coming months will tell, show if that is a more successful direction for me to take.
And so it begins ...
|Let's face it; even A-listed authors get bad reviews. You will encounter them.
But — when is a 'BAD' review, a bad review?
An unfavorable review is not intrinsically a 'BAD' review (ok, from here on, when I say 'bad' review, I mean exactly that. Unfavorable reviews are not bad reviews.) An unfavorable review is one that is telling you, nope, doesn't work, didn't grab me. A helpful unfavorable review will show you, in the reviewer's opinion, where you lost them. But if they didn't, it is still not a bad review.
The writer is responsible for engaging the reader, not the other way around.
A bad review is one that is disrespectful, insulting, derogatory, demeaning, dismissive. A really bad review is the same thing, except the reviewer takes the 'high' road saying something like, "Hey, this is a PEER review. I am trying to help you. Try to be a little more respectful of the reviewer." I would also characterize a review as a bad review when they quote a "rule" that you violated, but everyone else (including you) says otherwise.
Starting a story with a speech has the issue of not informing the reader beforehand about who is speaking.
I use speech as an opening hook all the time; as long as you answer the reader's question, "Who said that?" in short order, it works. So I keep doing it.
So how do you handle bad reviews? Do what I did — don't go there. Block and Ignore them if you have to, but move on.
Ok, let's move on, shall we?
Unfavorable reviews are a fact of life for the writer. No one is perfect; we make mistakes. But how do we handle it?
Rule number One: Put your ego into a little red box, tape it up (with duck tape! or something stronger), tie it up with strong twine, put the box in a lockbox (or bury it in the garage if you don't have one and lock the garage), get a cup of coffee or tea (nothing stronger, please), pick up a good book or pull up the latest installment of you favorite video stream — and chill.
Sleep on it if necessary.
Rule number Two: When you are ready, print out that review, step away from the keyboard (there is a funny joke here that is completely irrelevant, involving Warthogs and 50-hour Halo marathon sessions – I'll link it here if I ever write it up. My son thinks it is hilarious), get a big black marker, and on the top of that printout write "How to be a better writer: Lesson 1".
Reviews are snippets of an advanced education in writing. And they are free!
Read that last sentence as many times as you need before continuing.
Ok. I think I've beaten the dead horse silly with the idea that reviews are your vehicle to better writing. Wait. One more whack. Reviewers aren't always right. That, ultimately, is your call.
What have I learned from these wizened reviewers? In just three weeks, I have gathered a plethora of lessons. You will too. Don't get mad. Use them to make your writing better.
- emdashes are more effective than ellipses and commas and dashes at indicating sudden interruptions (I probably overuse them now!)
- aggressively winnow out words like 'just', 'really', and 'very'. Don't need them.
- same with 'seems' and 'evidently'. Unless it is necessary to the story to be ambiguous about something, these aren't needed.
- dig in when you start using the words 'knew', 'like', and 'it'. You are probably showing, not telling. Find more descriptive ways of saying that, if possible.
- use the WritingML tools. The default font type and size and line spacing ... suck. And within WritingML, you have features like justification, dashes, paragraph indents and spacing, footnotes; a whole bunch of doo-dads. Use them. At the very least, don't let default formatting distract from your story.
- quote common words that have specific and narrow technical meanings that not everyone would know (such as "Win or Place" as a gambling term)
- make sure your endings end the story. In the rush to meet contest deadlines, I have often neglected to step back and read the story from a distance. I have found my stories don't always go the direction I thought and the ending didn't end the story.
The most important advice I got, I will quote (unsourced; don't want to embarrass them):
If I can leave you with one thought to take with you, let it be this: Don't forget to have the fun! So many young and/or beginning writers get so caught up in the daily word count, the quest for publication, and the often conflicting advice of other writers that they forget to enjoy the journey. You may or may not become the next Big Celebrity Author, but you will always have the experience. Make sure it's a good one!
My gratitude and appreciation to those reviewers who pointed these out.
The only well-intentioned advice I have ignored is that of gendered pronouns. Some of my characters identify as non-binary gender, but it isn't always my intent to highlight that. The they-singular pronoun, one oft preferred by those who do not identify as strictly male or female, is rarely used in mainstream writing as an indication of gender identity. I think that is wrong. If I take a few hits in reviews because of it, that is my problem, not the reviewer's. But they-singular pronouns have been with us for over 700 years (though not specifically in that context) and the use of they-singular pronouns — as a substitute for gendered pronouns — has been in use for a couple decades. I believe the time has long past for contemporary writers to say, I didn't know. But I'm not going to get into an argument with someone who has devoted some of their irreplaceable time providing me with valuable feedback.
Sometimes you'll get a review that says something like, the story rambled and got off-track, or they were confused about the mental state of the character, but they offer no concrete information (where did it derail, what was confusing). This is not a bad review, but it is incomplete. A good review should not only point out what is wrong, but where and/or how. Read your piece first, but if you don't see it, ask. Politely. Be appreciative.
There are going to be times when the reviewer missed the boat and the confusion is from their own experiences. You'll have to ask yourself, is it me or is it them?
Bottom line, either you didn't provide enough information, or the reviewer is just in orbit around a different star than you. I said earlier that it is the writer's responsibility to engage the reader. But I would argue, for all the active verbs you may use, the reader does bear some responsibility to 'actively' read; I don't write children's stories. No star is the right one, but you cannot write a story that will give every reader everything. If you did, I guarantee you will get a review that says you are showing, not telling.
Writing is not rocket science nor brain surgery; sometimes it is even more complicated — certainly it is less explicitly precise.
Rule number Three: Take your ego out of the box.
Why? I don't know about you, but I write for me and, often, about me. Without my ego, I am not sure I could write.
So let's go and have some fun! And be safe out there!