Writers’ Tears

I recently finished the second draft of my novel, The Silvergreen Sea, a full six weeks ahead of schedule, just in time to go off on holiday to the South of France. Hooray! Celebration! Get out the champers!
Once the initial jubilation fades, it’s time to think about what happens next. And – oh dear – what happens next is the most terrifying part of the whole writing process. Giving the manuscript to another human being to read. Aargh! Can’t I just lock it away on my hard drive, never to be seen by another pair of eyes? Well, I suppose I could do that, although it seems a little self-defeating. After all, isn’t this what I want, isn’t this the whole point – not just to write, but to be read?
Well, yes. But. Handing over the book to someone else can be pretty nerve-wracking, even if it’s someone you trust. The essential problem for the amateur scribbler, of course, is that anyone you can cajole/bribe/emotionally blackmail into reading your book will inevitably have a vested interest in keeping you happy, and so there’s always a doubt that they will be entirely honest. My husband – long after the fact – confessed that when he started reading my first book, he was terrified that he’d hate it and not know how to tell me. Luckily, either he enjoyed it, or he’s a remarkably good liar playing a very long game. This time round, there’s more confidence, on both sides: he’s confident I can deliver a decent read, and I’m confident he’ll give me his honest opinions on anything he doesn’t like.
Oh dear. Honest opinions. Every writer’s greatest desire, and greatest fear. We want absolute honesty, but only if you loved it. The writing process is a very solipsistic one, and after spending many hours locked away in your own very carefully constructed castle in the air, it can be difficult to come back down to earth and be told that your character motivations are unclear and your chapter transitions too abrupt – and by the way you’ve used dashes when you should have used commas, and vice-versa.
How should the writer respond to criticism? Well, there’s any number of possible options. Crying uncontrollably. Sulking. Arguing with your reader – ‘I think you’ll find if you read more carefully you’ll see that was foreshadowed near the beginning of Chapter 3’. Ignoring the criticism – after all, what do they know, they’re not an artist! – and listening only to your muse. These options are all possible, but none of them is remotely constructive, and some may result in permanently falling out with your long-suffering reader. If you want to derive something helpful from the process, there is only one way to deal with criticism.
Suck it.
That’s right, suck it all up, take it on the chin and get over yourself. Listen carefully to everything the reader has to say, and don’t try to argue with them. So they didn’t appreciate your plot twist? So they didn’t much like your main character? Well, so be it. Maybe your plot twist is stupid and your character is insufferable. Maybe not. But the point is, you’ve got an opportunity here: your reader has given you the precious gift of an honest opinion, before the book is unleashed on the world, and you still have the chance to make some changes.
And of course, if they say nice things, you can bask in the smug joy of having created a thing of beauty. And, if someone is prepared to tell you the bad things, you know that when they say good things, they mean them. Honest praise – the most precious thing of all.
I’ve also found that my latest read, Misery by Stephen King, has been very good at putting things in perspective. Hey, so my husband found fault with some parts of my book! At least [SPOILERS] I’m not being held prisoner by a raving psychopath who’ll burn my manuscript and amputate assorted body parts if she doesn’t like what I’ve written.
Now to start thinking about that third draft…

The Fan Manifesto

Lately, I’ve been seeing a few arguments, in various corners of cyberspace, about what it means, or doesn’t mean, to be a fan of something – should you buy the special editions, read the fan fic, wear the T-shirt? Who are the true fans? How can you tell them from the fake? Who is, or isn’t, permitted to be a fan of a particular thing? How should a real fan behave in the face of criticism of their beloved book/franchise/medium/pseudo-religion? Can you be too into something?

As is often the way with online arguments, a lot of this discussion can get quite… emotional. Here, for posterity, is my humble contribution, in the form of a handy five-point fan manifesto.

1) You can be a fan of whatever the hell you want, as passionately as you want. Ain’t no such thing as a guilty pleasure baby. It doesn’t matter when you were born, where you live, what you look like, which school you went to, who you dream about, what colour your hair is, if you piss sitting down, if you piss standing up, or who you are on a Monday morning. If you love something, you love it, and nobody can tell you otherwise.

2) There’s no right or wrong way to be a fan. You can be obsessive, you can be casual, you can be anything in between. Everyone started somewhere, after all. Watch the movie but don’t read the book. Write the slash fiction but don’t watch the show. Play the Android game but don’t buy the box-set. Wear the T-shirt just because you think it looks cool. You can read/watch/play/wear/write/listen/draw/consume/squee over whatever combination of stuff appeals to you, and if someone else thinks you’re weird because of it, that’s their problem, not yours.

3) Sharing your passion with others is great. Discussing passions with others is also great. Telling someone they’re not a ‘real’ fan because they don’t accept your headcanon, or they ship the ‘wrong’ couple, or you don’t like their cosplay, or whatever other reason… I think there’s a term for that. Oh yes, that’s right, it’s called Being A Dick. Don’t do that, people.

Is this a real fan?

Is this a real fan?

4) You can not be a fan of whatever you like. Everybody else likes something else – so what? Doesn’t matter what those Amazon algorithms say, not everyone who likes X has to like Y. Deal with it.

5) It’s possible to love something, but not love every single thing about it: to find certain parts of it troubling or distasteful, or just not as good as the rest of it. It’s even possible to hate some aspects of it; just as you can love a person deeply, but hate their alcohol problem. Acknowledging problems with something you love isn’t weakness, it’s maturity.

And if someone criticises something you love, it doesn’t necessarily mean they hate it, or hate you, or that you should hate them. Everyone is, after all, entitled to their own opinion, and sometimes the greatest fans can also be the harshest critics.