Wednesday, April 13, 2011

when the floodgates open

The writing has been coming at me like floodwaters these past few days, bombarding me with scenes and stories and snippets of conversations. They're not even in sequence.

I love when this happens. It's the part of the process that is magical--miraculous, really. I never know when it'll happen, but I have to drop everything (sometimes even pull over to the side of the road) and get it down on the page. Almost always, it comes to me longhand. My scribble can hardly keep up with the rapid-fire dictation that happens in my head, or wherever this stuff is coming from. I put my pen down and close my notebook only when I catch myself pausing for a thought. When it becomes a conscious act to come up with the next word, I know it's done. For now.

I don't love, however, the way it can wreak havoc with my sleep schedule or to-do list. Unlike other things, I can't procrastinate or re-schedule this writing--it won't let me. A couple of nights ago, I was up at 1:30 in the morning, and wrote for at least an hour. This morning it came to me after my shower, before breakfast (and yet, I was oblivious to the growls of my stomach). And once again I've been forced to put off doing laundry either 'til later in the day, or perhaps on Friday, if I can hold out for that long. And if I don't get a jump on the latest batch of first drafts from my students, then they, not I, will suffer for it and I can't let that happen.

When these writing floods happen, the writing itself isn't often that good -- an elegant turn of phrase might come out of it, or a funny joke, or a rather visual description -- little nuggets of gold in all that sand. But that's ok. That's what revision is for. Many times it is during these floods that secrets are revealed. My protagonist spilled his to me this morning, and I've been heartbroken ever since. I knew it was coming, and knew it wasn't pretty. I so want to spare him from it, but I can't. Because if there's anything I've learned, these bursts of writing are really about the truths that so urgently need to be told. They refuse to be ignored. For me to spare any character from pain is to be disingenuous to my story and to my reader. To me.

I'm tired, and my day is already shot to hell in terms of any semblence of a plan I had. But I was given a key to my protagonist's heart, and that's worth it all.

Monday, April 4, 2011

why I don't (like to) read my reviews

To date, my three books have collected over 200 reviews combined, and that's just on I haven't checked GoodReads lately, or the many independent blogs who have been kind enough to post reviews. I'm appreciative of all those who read my books and take the time to write a review, be it positive or negative, but I've stopped reading them for the most part. Occasionally, one will catch my eye and I'll look at it, or I'll be alerted to a review on a blog and, if it's favorable, I'll post it on Twitter or the Faking It Fans page. But, more often than not, I find myself feeling worse, not better, after reading reviews. Even the good ones. And it is for that reason, among others, that I discourage myself for reading reviews. Let me try to explain.

Reviews are for readers, not authors. When a reader posts a book review, s/he is telling other potential readers of that book whether or not the investment--be it in time or energy or money--is worthwhile. As an author, I've already written my book. And read it. In fact, I wrote it because it was the very kind of book I wanted to read. I'm already sold that it was worth my time and energy (and even money).

Reviews develop a false sense of security (or insecurity). As a writer, I'm somewhere on the continuum of not as good as some (ok, many), and better than others. Most writers are. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pleased that my books have gotten so many favorable reviews -- heck, what author wouldn't be happy about that? -- but reading them is a different story. If I were to read nothing but the favorable reviews, I'd start to think I was infallible, and that would affect my writing (not to mention turn me into somewhat of a jerk). On the other hand, if I read nothing but the bad reviews, I'd start to question my talent and worthiness to write at all. That, too, would affect my writing.

Of course I know that I can't and won't please everyone. I don't even try. Of course I want as many people as possible to like what I write. That's only natural. But above all, the first person I need and want to please is me. If I don't like what I write, I can't ask anyone else to. "To thine own self be true."

Negative reviews hurt. There's no way of getting around it. I tell myself it's just a bruised ego, I tell myself it's one person's opinion, I may even criticize the review. Regardless, I walk away from a negative review feeling like total crap. Why put myself through that willingly?

Some say the greater act of ego is to not read any negative review for the sake of sparing myself. Perhaps. But that's why I decided to refrain from reading all reviews.

Some authors read their reviews, especially negative ones, in order to learn what they can do better. This can be a helpful tool, I suppose, and I've read some reviews with criticisms that I did indeed take to heart. But I'd rather receive constructive criticism from those beta readers and others I entrust with my manuscript. As I stated earlier, reviews are for readers. Beta reasders and critique groups are for writers. This is not to put down reviewers, or to dismiss them.

Thing is, when it comes to reader reviews, that pesky ego gets in the way and I find it wanting to defend my characters and my work. Not good. I've seen authors self-destruct on blogs that posted a negative review, or ranted on Twitter about a bad review, trashing the reviewer as well as the review. So not good. In my early days as an indie author, I responded to an Amazon review in which I told the reviewer that she misinterpreted the ending of Ordinary World. At the time, my intention was to politely offer my insights and explanation as the writer -- I didn't mean to be accusatory or even bitter about the fact that she didn't like the ending. I've considered deleting that comment time and again, afraid I'd be lumped in with those aforementioned self-destructive authors. And while it hasn't seemed to hurt my reputation (phew!), it taught me a crucial lesson: Don't respond to any reviews other than to say thank you. And even that much is offered only if a reviewer has directly informed me of his/her review.

Let me re-state that I appreciate all readers who take the time to read my books and post a review. Like books, emails, lab reports, political speeches, business proposals, etc., writing an effective review of any kind takes skill and practice. The average reader doesn't make a living from writing reviews, and that's ok. My intention is not to discourage anyone from writing a review. I only want to keep my head where I think it belongs: writing the best stories I can, so I can get more of those favorable things that I won't read. I'll leave that up to you.