Friday, January 7, 2011

The Courage to be Crap and not Compete

I had to link to this blog post about writers not having to compete against each other.  It's about the myth that writers and books have to compete with each other.  Like people only buy one book in their lifetimes.  Really, the opposite is true - at least in my opinion.  People who like to read buy books.  Plural.  And lots of them.  They like a book and look for similar ones.  This is why Amazon's "people also bought" works so well.  One book succeeds and all of those linked to it do a lot better too.  I've talked about this before, I believe we will all ride on the coattails of somebody else's fame - it's a co-operative effort despite our claims of independence. 

On that particular article I linked to, there's the idea that indies are more likely to feel in competition with each other - and with traditionally published books too.  Bingo.  So very true.  Hang out on any writer's forum and this is the kind of atmosphere you'll eventually find.  Some get a tiny bit obsessed with what everyone else is doing and how to emulate it.  Unfortunately, the minority get a little bitter and twisted about how those they perceive as being less talented than them are doing so well with little effort.  (I know for a fact A Little Girl bugs the shit out of one or two people - in a good-natured sort of way - because I've never exactly ran around promoting it but it's a steady (but not great) seller.  It's okay, I'm baffled too). 

Lately, I've been a little saddened by a number of attitudes (by people I've thought were cool/nice/smart enough not to get dragged down by this) towards some who are quite successful even though they aren't the most skilled in the way of editing/grammar/spelling/etc.  I can't respect someone who makes snide remarks about their thoughts on another person's level of talent in a passive-aggressive sort of way.  If you think they aren't doing a good job then help them, why put them down and wait for readers to embarrass them?  To quote the post I linked to earlier:

If your book sucks, your story is dull, your cover bad and unreadable, it isn’t another writer’s fault. That is your fault.

Basically, my attitude is this.  If a writer is successful, they are doing something right - even if you think they are awful, awful writers (I'm sure Stephenie Meyers is very upset by claims of her lack of talent, yet remains well-buffered by her wads of cash).  If you aren't doing as well, maybe you're missing something.  You.  Don't waste time blaming somebody else.  Keep writing, work hard and you will get there when your time comes, there's room for lots of people to do well, chill. 

I read Dean Wesley Smith's blog regularly and get a kick out of it.  He writes those wake up and smell the coffee type posts wherein he sounds incredulous that people would even come up with this shit.  Love it.  If you're ever getting wrapped up in your own ego and what everyone else is doing and achieving, stop comparing rankings and sales long enough to read some of his blog posts and get a quick kick up the arse that will send you back down to earth where you belong. 

He writes posts like Dare to be Bad, which truly resonates with me.  In that one, he talks about being confident enough to send the work out to stand on its own legs before you edit and rewrite it to death.  I'm so not saying people don't need to edit - just, you know, learn to quit while you're ahead.  :)

This post reads as though it were written for me specifically.  Seriously, I edit and tweak the life out of everything.  I thought I hated editing (okay, I do, but not as much as I thought) because I have one manuscript in particular I just can't finish.  I've edited it so much, I've lost the heart of the story.  I've edited out the humour, the originality and everything that made me smile when I reread it.  I'm left with something that is technically better but a lot less fun to read. 

My problem is twofold.  I don't know when something is finished and I'm terrified of disappointing people.  I got over it a little when I published A Little Girl and One Night.  I disappointed enough people that I wasn't scared of it anymore.  :)  I'm fine with people not liking something but I have a problem with feeling like I took money from someone and disappointed them.  Negative comments don't actually hurt me though.

I learned things I would apply to other stories so I was happy with the feedback, good and bad.  Then I went back to work on a novel and lost my confidence (or courage) again.  I forced myself to publish something else before 2010 finished because it was a now or never sort of thing.  I hadn't finished anything all year and was holding myself back.  If I didn't publish Thirst when I did, I would have tweaked it for the next three years and probably ended up giving up on it.  I sent it out, listened to feedback and now believe it's not as good as I thought but not as bad as I panic-nightmared.  :)  Some people liked it, some people thought it was just okay and nobody's opinion killed me. 

Actually declaring a finishing point made me appreciate editing a little more and despise it a little less.  It will never be my friend but I think the whole arch-nemesis thing has calmed down a tad.  My new thing for this year is to stop being scared, to have the courage to be crap and to learn from said crapness for the next book.  We can't learn without making a few mistakes and breaking a few rules along the way - we can't move forward without risking failure too.  (Some of the most successful and not-so-successful indies this year took chances and risked failure while a lot of us hmmed and hawwed and were too scared to put our babies out there in case they weren't ready).  So I'm going to risk failing this year - it's better than not ever knowing.  /Epic post


  1. Thank you for your thoughts and words about editing. My own inner and eternal editor often strangles words before they have a chance to make it to the page. Your advice is well taken!

  2. Ben, I used to struggle with that too - I would edit every sentence as I thought them and wondered why I didn't have the passion to finish anything. We all have to find the way that works best for us in the end.

  3. Claire, thanks for stopping by my blog :) I understand what you mean about over editing. I've done that myself and I realize now it's because I'm too worried about what people think. Last night I worked on my WIP and I sat for awhile with nothing to say. Then I told myself, just have fun and write whatever comes to mind, and I managed to get two pages out.

  4. Jessica, everything is so much harder when it stops being fun. The most fun I've had writing has been when I've written something I didn't expect anyone else to read. It was the easiest to get down on paper too. Funny how our minds work sometimes. :)

  5. I loved that post by DWS too...and this one is brilliant, IMO. Too often we just can't get out of our own way. My serial novels are how I combat this - posting drafts pretty much cures you of caring what people think (and the final product is revised and polished, of course - though not to the point of death).

    Kudos to you for finding the fun in writing, and for letting yourself relax. We all need to be more like that. :-)

  6. This is wonderful, and exactly what I needed to read. I don't have trouble publishing stuff, but when I am about to, I worry about how many 1 and 2 star reviews I'll get and what the complaints will be this time. It's killed my creativity for a part of last year and sucked a lot of fun out of my work. So thank you so much for this post because you're right: nothing ventured, nothing gained!

  7. The courage to be crap...I love it! You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the fun bit. I find when the story starts to grind and I'm not having fun, I'm taking the story in the wrong direction. Yesterday after six months of refusing to budge I gave in and deleted 10,000 words (4 chapters) which was probably my last years work on the story. It's good writing, but it just feels wrong. I hate that! So I've given in to my characters so hopefully they'll all get happy and start talking to me again and even if it's crap it'll be less crap than it was the other day.

    Writing (self-publishing) does take courage. Fear is my enemy. I found this great quote the other day in a Victorian story called The Princess and the Goblin "...but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of." I thought that was quite profound.

  8. @ Jamie - we really can be our own worst enemies sometimes. I've posted drafts - it's scary and yet exciting at the same time. Thanks for commenting. :)

    @Ruth - Just remember we're all only going to appeal to a small portion of people, relatively speaking. We're bound to bump into the wrong people every now and then but as long as you keep in mind you're not trying to appeal to every single reader then it's a little easier to stomach. ;) I hope you take back the fun this year.

    @Cari - That quote is perfect! I know what you mean about cutting, sometimes you need to have the courage to cut, as hard as it is. I've been there, soooo feeling your pain. :)

  9. This is a great post!

    I know what you mean about thinking you hate editing. I will say I hate editing and then every time I read something I've written I will edit it. I consider the manuscript done when I can reread it and only tweak one or two items. After that, it's done and I refuse to ever do more than typo correction again.

  10. Thanks Joleene - editing is an incurable habit, I swear. I get to a point where I'm afraid to look at the manuscript again because I know that, somewhere, I'll find something to change. I have to do what you do and refuse to get into the tweaking again.


Feel free to have your say.