Everything You Know Is Wrong

Up is down, black is white, and short is long. Stole that from Weird Al. That's my song of the day. Why? Because it's probably true.

About me, I mean. Not you. Necessarily.

 It turns out that it was true last week, before I realized the following things:

No, I can't please everyone. I shouldn't even try. I mean, we've all heard that. But good writing is good writing, isn't it? (Of course this is about writing. Do I blog about anything else?) Part of me still holds to that notion, that nagging feeling that the first sentence of this paragraph is just something that crappy writers tell themselves when people don't like their books. Just look at Harry Potter! Everyone loves Harry Potter. But more and more, it's sinking in that no matter how well I write, how amazing a story teller I am, some characters and stories won't get along with some readers. Some characters and stories won't get along with most readers. Because...

Voice really is important. Just look at The Catcher in the Rye. I could hardly stand it. Didn't see much merit in it. But millions of people have read it and many of them LOVE it. Strong voice? Oh yeah. And if I were J.D.'s beta reader, I'd have wanted him to strip that voice right out of it because it bugged me. He would have ended up with a book that was palatable to me and loved by virtually no one. This leads me to believe...

I should critique with a light touch. Because who am I to play the person a writer should be trying to please! I guess if I love the book, that gives me some right to critique. Chances are I'm in its audience. Still, it makes me wonder if we rely too much on outside feedback. There was my first novel, which kind of sucked and I didn't get much feedback, and it still sucks. But then...

If I rewrite, revise, or edit too much, I'll kill my own writing. People talk about polishing, editing, revising, revising, revising and doing twenty, thirty, a million drafts and working on books for years until they're perfect, AND I don't think that works for me. Seriously, it's an art, not bricklaying. It's like I start out with a block of granite and carve a story in it. Every new pass makes it smaller and smaller, until there's nothing left of that beautiful stone I started out with. All that's left is the words. The core is gone. I know this because I've done it. Of course...

Everything I know might be wrong. The best I can do is do my best based on what I think is right today. And that's why...

I still need feedback from a lot of different people. Everyone knows what's right in a slightly different way. In the end, it's my decision what to do. It's my baby. My responsibility. And I'm not at all objective. But everyone has something helpful to say, even if they hate everything about a novel. I guess it's just a matter of feeling out what I need to learn from each reader and how, when, and where to apply it.

Maybe that's all I really need to know. I'm pretty sure it's right. What do you think?


  1. I agree with all of the above. It's hard to find that balance of really working on your book- trying to make it the best- but not stripping it of what makes it yours. I struggle with that.

    I've never read Catcher in the Rye but I tried one Hemingway and HATED it. (People will now try to murder me for that comment.) And I love Rick Riordan's voice in his books, but my husband thought it was insanely annoying.

    So yeah, you can never please everyone. I think that's where our own instincts have to kick in.

  2. Yeah, Melanie. It almost seems to me like that's where the secret sauce comes in, the part of writing that's beyond mere hard work. Besides luck, I mean.

  3. It's so hard. It just is. I wish I knew the secret, but all I've come up with is lots and lots of passes, taking time off, and looking at it again. And that advice from David Farland to take what's not working and make it better, not delete it.

    And I hate Hemingway. And Steinbeck. And I have a really hard time with Jane Austen, but feel kindly toward her. *shrugs* So much of the enjoyment of a book is personal.


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