When I’m looking for something new to read I’ll often peruse samples of self-published books on Amazon.com. It’s a treasure trove of brilliant stories and superb writing. Sadly, it’s also a quagmire and finding the gems among the mud can be a hassle.
Last year I came across a book, the details of which I will refrain from giving. I only read the first few sample pages and promptly put it down. It was nothing but passive voice, info dumping, endless adverbs and paragraphs with the same word used half a dozen times. It read worse than most nanowrimo drafts I’ve seen.
I put the book out of mind until I happened upon its sequel the other day. Curious, I read the sample pages to see what improvements the author had made in his writing. None. He still had all of the novice mistakes and sloppy editing that’d plagued the first book. He clearly didn’t care about improving his craft, he just wanted to get his book out there.
In one of my writing groups we have people wander in with their shiny new manuscript, ready for us to be awed. These new people have either visited other groups where they received a pat on the head, or they’ve never been to a writers group before.
My group is arguably one of the more brutally honest.
When these new people receive their critiques, there are three common results.
1. They never come back – Hurt that we didn’t love their piece, we never see them again. I feel sorry for these people, because they can develop into exquisite writers if only if they could handle the constructive criticism.
2. They get defensive – These people are fun to watch. They aggressively try to defend their writing, and how they’re right and everyone else is either wrong and/or stupid. They subsequently also never come back, but I have no sympathy for this group and say good riddance.
One girl received a particularly harsh criticism. Her character was a 25-year-old beauty queen, philanthropist, helicopter pilot, brain surgeon billionaire (I’m not exaggerating). The character was also a complete jerk, yet somehow everyone in the book fell in love with her.
In previous critique sessions, the author had been told that this won’t work, but she ignored all advice. Finally, fed-up with the same character appearing again and again, one of the people who’d critiqued her simply said that he wished this character would just die in her Olympic-sized swimming pool.
A short while later this girl returned with a new piece. This time her character brutally murdered someone with the critiquer’s name…in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
After that we never saw her again.
3. They accept the criticism and try to improve, carefully looking over the comments and taking to heart the points that would best help them. Sometimes critiques are hard, but they return slightly better than before and ready to learn.
I have seen incredible talent blossom from those who are willing.
To be an author is easy; you just have to put words on paper and get it out there for the world to see.
To be a writer takes effort. Writing, Revision, Critique. You bleed red ink and still come back for more. You are never at the pinnacle of your talent. Always strive to build upon your craft and become something greater.
Don’t just be an author. Become a writer.