Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why I no longer have readers

I've stopped having people read my work basically entirely. I used to have family, friends, girlfriends (well okay girlfriend), and other writers (those I know personally and those I anonymously encountered through the Critters Writers' Workshop) read my work to get feedback and try to improve the story before it went to market. But now... I don't do any of that.

It's not that I disliked any of my readers; in fact, I met a lot of really cool people in my hunt for readers, including Alex J. Kane, David Barron, and Jeff Ambrose. I did, however, find criticism generally unuseful. The only real reason for this unusefulness was that I felt it was too easy to counter the advice: stories can always be written in a different way, but that doesn't mean that they'll be better. I also get bored with my stories quite easily, so the idea of going back and re-working something is not just unattractive: it's potentially threatening to the possible goodness that already potentially exists within a story, since I'd always be going back to the work, not with the enthusiasm of its original composition, but with a sort of lacklustre attitude.

In theory, unanimous or near unanimous criticism should be useful; but I've even seen instances of Fail in that context. My story "Seedling," which sold to Fusion Fragment, was roundly rebuffed by Critters for having too much swearing. And, yeah, it's got a lot of swearing: particularly a great deal of F-bombs. That happened because it was a story for which I "unleashed" - I told myself I was just going to write it however it came out and not judge it - and I suppose I curse a lot in daily life. Ultimately, it seems not to have mattered too much.

Most important of all, though, I just don't seem to have the time for critiques and revisions. Writing and revising the first, second, and third drafts is hard enough. I just don't have the stamina to do more of it, and to other people's possibly erroneous feelings, to boot. Not, again, that I don't think people have valid points: but validity is a pretty easy thing to acquire - criticism, in short, is easy - so criticism is ultimately a sort of futile gesture, a "it could be otherwise" that is not objectively necessary. I've even rejected really good criticism I've received in personal rejections from editors, because what they see as fault - for example, loose-endedness, not enough action, unclear motives - might be a story tactic that appeals to someone else.

That said, I do take rewrite requests from editors seriously, and not even primarily because it's a chance to sell. Most of my rewrites have been returned to me, but I've ended up with stronger stories because of it. I think a rewrite request offers a fundamentally different nature of advice than even the most involved personal rejection, because an editor sees a possible way for something to be that is more attractive. I suspect this is because editors are artists much like writers, putting together an ensemble of works meant to have a holistic effect, so they can see a way to bring out more of a story in a very specific kind of way. This, of course, means that some of the original effect of the story may be lost; but in my experience this has been the effects of "overload" and "too muchery."

Although, actually... you know what? It usually destroys subtlety.

But whatever. I'm probably just money-hungry, anyway.

Anyway, I kind of wish I did more critiquing: it's a fun, social sort of thing to do, and writing can be lonely. But ultimately, my lack of critique-ness exists for the same reason that I haven't tried to get a slush-reading gig, spend more time on Twitter with the writing bros and hos, or participate more actively in the actual social scene of SF&F by going to cons or whatever: I want to focus, for the most part, on writing, and time is precious enough as it is.



  1. Ben,

    First, thanks for the shout-out.

    Second, once I stopped giving my work for people to critique, writing became really fun. I have three proofreaders (my wife, my sister, and friend), but that's it. I write, I finish, I let them proofread, I make any changes I think need to be made (they're all comma Nazis, but I think that commas in fiction should mostly be used as it), and then I'm finished with it.

    And without a doubt -- if an editor wants a rewrite, you do it.

  2. Great point about fun, Jeff. Editing for me is a stressful process, so the parts I HAVE to edit are enough as is - soliciting extra stress is ridonkadonk. Why produce stories if it isn't fun?

  3. I stopped doing Critters because I ran out of interesting things to say in critiques. And I was too busy writing to remember what I put up a month ago.

  4. Precisely. You end up getting critiques in your inbox and thinking, "Huh? Oh, THAT story..."