I had several topics I wanted to talk about today, but then I checked in with my discussion group on Facebook where they were talking about aspiring writers attacking other aspiring writers, and now that topic is the one foremost on my mind.
I never encountered attacks when I was learning to write because I didn’t get on the internet or meet other authors until I was already an accomplished writer. In the beginning, it was just me, pencils and paper, and an idea. (I didn’t even have a typewriter, let alone a computer.) Later, it was just me, pencils and paper, an idea, and a steady stream of books about writing — hundreds of them. Writing coaches often remark that you learn about writing by writing, but it takes a lot of writing (some say 10,000 hours, some say 1,000,000 words) to become adept at the craft. I thought that by studying how to write I could hurry things along so I could start making money from my books. (Hard to believe I was ever that naïve — the money part, that is. Learning to write was the right thing to do.)
I’ve hidden my first novel so I don’t come upon it by accident — it’s that bad. Of course, while writing it, I thought it sounded wonderful. Words added up to sentences, sentences added up to paragraphs, paragraphs added up to . . . well, you get the picture. Later, when I learned to write, I saw the horror of it. To this day, no one has read any of that draft, and no one ever will until I rewrite it. And re-rewrite. And edit. And re-edit. And copyedit. (I still like the premise, so it’s on my exceedingly short list of ideas for books.) I can’t imagine what sort of horrendous attack posting any part of that book online would have garnered, but as much as the attacks would have hurt, they would have been deserved, though I would not have known that.
One of the first things I did after getting the internet and learning my way around was to start this blog. (On September 24, this blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary. That day will also mark 365 days of daily blogging and my 1000th post +2. Any suggestions for a gala celebration?)
A couple of weeks after beginning to blog, I entered a writing contest where people left comments on the first chapter of a novel. By asking some people to vote, I enraged them since they considered such messages spam, and they retaliated with some of the most scathing commentary I’ve ever encountered. After those comments — and the 200 rejections I received before I found a publisher who loved my work — I became inured to attack.
The disparaging remarks never cease. Once my books were published, I got a few low ratings from other writers who thought (foolishly) that by giving me single stars it will make their ratings look better. I also got bad reviews (or at least mediocre ones) from people who simply didn’t understand the books, mistook the genre, or realized too late the books were outside their comfort zone.
I spent years on my books — perfecting the craft, rewriting and editing, following the suggestions of my editors to make them even better. They are the exact stories I wanted to write with the exact words I wanted to use. If people don’t like my books, that is their prerogative, and they are welcome to say so, but I’m not changing a single word to reflect the tastes of the few who dislike or who misunderstand my books. The way I see it, reviews are for other readers, not me — I already know what the books are about.
Most readers say nice things about my books, and most of the reviews are wonderful. Many of the reviews seem to have been written by my friends, but generally it worked the other way around. I became friends with my reviewers. How could I not? They have such great taste!
The internet is a great tool for writers, but I wonder if it hinders just as much as it helps. If I had put myself out there too soon, I’d have taken attacks personally, and maybe followed a different path with my writing. By waiting to put myself out there after I’d become an accomplished writer, it didn’t matter so much what anyone said. I knew the truth.