Michelle (msagara) wrote,

Translating Writer-Speak for non-writers, in brief

I remember, long before I started writing a novel, I had the certain sense that writers knew what they were doing and that every word was brilliant (if I loved their work); every word was golden. Because the words were important to me and I was just the reader, I assumed that the depth of import must be orders of magnitude more significant for the writers.

I also assumed they knew everything about their world and characters, and remembered every detail they had ever written, and somehow planned everything in advance, to achieve the things that moved me so much. I was a reader to whom books were a religious experience, an epiphany; how could it be less?


In some sense, this is all true. And in some, it is utterly naive garbage. But it's what I thought, and I share this tonight because I understand that readers who are not writers do still feel this way. I crossed a boundary, and I am no longer that reader.

But I'm aware of the risks I take when I say "oh my god this book is all garbage" in public, on my LJ, or anywhere. Some readers will assume that, if I say this about my work, it must be true and further, that I must have cared enough at some point in the past not to write garbage. They find it disillusioning, because honestly, if I'm just going to write crap, why bother?

And this is because they don't fully apprehend that at some stage in every book, every writer will be struck by how insignificant, how pathetic, and how craptastic the book actually is. So. Just in case.

When writers say "omg this is all crap", it's not actually definitive because it is in every conceivable way a subjective evaluation, and it is frequently fear, insecurity and isolation talking above the text in a loud, squeaky, thoroughly obnoxious voice. It is not an admission that they don't care that they are writing garbage, or that they don't care about their writing anymore, when they used to or how could they have written that book you loved, or that they are not struggling to do their best work; it's the fear that they have done all this and failed.

I am used to writing through the insecurity and uncertainty, because if I am lucky, there will be 20k words in an entire manuscript that I am certain work. I am less certain about the other 180k. (I'm working on a West novel, which is why I chose those numbers; I could have said 14k and 136k as well). The words that I am less certain of, I shift or change or cut.

I would love to be able to write without the fear. I have never been able to achieve that; there are days when I feel that the work was good, but even that fades because, well, me. It's helpful to realize that the fear is part of the process (although I generally tell myself that, and then also tell myself omg but this time it really is all awful.)

But I work just as hard as I did when I started. I think I'm smarter now, but that's also subjective. Other writers? Same thing.

The first time I heard a writer say they were writing garbage, it was shocking. I can barely remember this, but I can remember it. So now, when I hear someone at the store tell me that so-and-so said in his blog that his writing is all garbage, so he's obviously not concerned with his readers anymore, I gently explain that he is probably in the middle-of-the-book, and that he is merely talking more publicly about the process than other writers do, and also that he probably felt the same way about every single book the reader has read and liked.

But the fact that I do on occasion still have to explain this reminded me to do this here, just in case it's relevant.
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