Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Contradictions of a Writer

Rob Wells is finishing up the first draft of the sequel to his upcoming YA sci fi novel, Variant (in fact, he might be done now. If so, congrats, Rob! If not, GET TO WORK, SLACKER). A week and a half ago, he tweeted the following: “I had to look up some details from VARIANT and ended up reading several chapters. Forgive me for saying so, but that book's pretty darn good.”

I suspect that many of us aren’t accustomed to coming right out and praising our own work (hence Rob’s joking request for forgiveness), but Rob should think his book is good—fantastic, in fact. I think every author should love his/her work. If we don’t love what we write, why should we expect readers to love it—and even spend money to buy it? We’re readers too, and naturally, we’re going to write the type of thing we like to read—so, if we think our own book is lackluster, a little on the boring side and not too polished, maybe a scant three stars on a good day . . . um . . . bummer. Not a good sign.

Of course, it’s difficult—impossible, even?—to read our own work like we’d read another author’s work. We’re powerfully emotionally invested in our own work and might want to adore it, even when it doesn’t deserve adoration. Strangely enough, we might also want to criticize it more harshly than we would another writer's work, nitpicking at even tiny flaws. Contradictory, huh? In his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card said:

“Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:

1. The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English.

2. The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.

“It’s best if you believe both these things simultaneously, so that you can call on Belief 1 when you’re deciding whether to mail the story out, Belief 2 when going over the story to revise it, Belief 1 when choosing which market to submit to, Belief 2 when the story is rejected (of course, I expected to get this back), and Belief 1 again when you put it back in an envelope and mail it to the next-best market.

“Of course, believing two contradictory facts at the same time is sometimes referred to as madness—but that, too, can be an asset to a writer.”

I love that quote. I agree with Card—as authors, we need both beliefs. We need that excitement about our work—the exhilarating sense that we're doing a good job of creating a gripping, well-written story that readers will enjoy. Lose that joy of creation, and what’s the point? I hate to burst the bubbles of any aspiring writers out there, but most of us aren’t getting rich writing books. This isn’t a business you go into for the money.

But at the same time, the worst thing we can do for a book—and our writing careers—during the creation process is to regard our talent and skill as infallible and our stories as perfect. If we’re not willing to improve our skills, to look for problems in our manuscripts, to listen and seriously consider it when our instinct or feedback from an outside source tells us something isn’t working, to be flexible, to delete, to add, to rewrite, to polish, to do all of this as many times as it takes to produce a strong, publishable manuscript—we’re toast. To succeed, we MUST be willing to regard our work critically and see where it needs improvement—and then improve it. And we should continue to grow our skills, book to book.

And when all your hard work pays off, a book is polished and published (or in your publisher’s queue awaiting release), and you can no longer change a word—then don't forget to enjoy what you’ve done. Flip through the pages and think, “Hey—this book is pretty darn good.” Go ahead and love what you created. Five stars! (And you can pre-order Variant here).


At 3/16/2011 10:48 AM, Blogger Krista said...

This is why I am entirely eager and terrified for my book's release. Although after over a year, I'm leaning more toward the eager part. Just get it out already and I'll deal!

At 3/16/2011 11:22 AM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Can't wait to read Variant so I can see for myself how brilliant it is ...

At 3/16/2011 11:30 AM, Blogger Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

I've read Variant and it IS brilliant! Bravo, Rob. You get an A+.
TRying to find an extra minute so I can read Chapters 1-2 of the second book in the series!

At 3/16/2011 12:18 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Great post!

The hard thing, I think, is that we writers still have both contradictory thoughts even after we've finished writing: The "this is worthless drivel" thought is always in the back of our minds, even if we're published, even if we're selling well.

It's a good thing I'm a Mormon, or I'd be an alcoholic.

At 3/16/2011 1:24 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Yeah, it's a crazy business. And no matter how many great reviews we get, one bad review can still shake us up and cut us right to the heart. But as long as we're having fun, right? :)

Krista, I know your book will be awesomely worth waiting for!

At 3/16/2011 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a healthy thought, really:

The novel I wrote last year sucks compared to the one I'm writing right now. (except, of course in Rob's case, since you can't improve on perfection--kudos on a great novel Rob).

Since you wrote that last novel, you've improved your ability to write dialogue, you've gained some insight on point of view, you're better able to ferrot out repetition and you understand foreshadowing a bit better now than you did when you wrote those past lame books. You create better characters now than then. Your plots are more inventive. The motivation for your characters is more believeable. You know what to hide from the reader, what to reveal to the character, and what to keep hidden from everyone. The voice you create for your character's has matured. You're a better writer this month than you were last month.

What you're writing right now is by far the best thing you've ever done. And when this one is published and you look back on it, a year or ten years from now, you'll realize that it doesn't hold a candel to the one you're writing right now (Rob Wells excused, of course).


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