Also, Shadows and Monsters – Note: This post contains personal disclosure and some serious stuff, proving that it’s not all fun, fun, fun, at least in the formative years of A.D. Everard – Yesterday, I wrote a post titled, “Don’t worry about your readers, just be yourself,” in which I promoted the idea that if you write to please yourself first and foremost, the right readers will find you.
It’s a big issue, this who-to-write-for thing, and I am reminded of a big old house with lots of nooks and crannies hiding shadows and monsters. Only, which are the shadows and which are the monsters? In so far as a writer’s psyche can have nooks and crannies, the shadows and monsters hiding there are a great assortment of fears and worries, of doubts and guilt. Some are real. Most are not.
Writers are EMPATHIC. That means they FEEL.
Unfortunately, that also means they are prey to subtle and not-so-subtle manipulation of people surrounding them who suffer from shadows and monsters of their own. Not all of this is deliberate, in fact, I’m sure most of it is subconscious, I’m just saying it’s there. Few fields of endeavor are so open to casual abuse.
If you doubt that, consider this: I can’t think of any writer who hasn’t had a “real” job at some point. So, when you were a shop assistant, a bank clerk, an engineer, a truck-driver – whatever – how often did friends and relatives sit around evaluating your skill or critiquing your efforts? How often did they tell you how to do it?
Right. So, okay, for the moment let’s ignore that side of things. You’ve written a book and you’ve followed your heart, and now you want to know if it’s any good before you publish. How do you do that? How do you know if you’ve captured the characters well, if it reads smoothly or if the pace works? How can YOU decide if it’s worthy and if writing the way YOU wanted to write works?
The bottom line is, you have to read it, too. It works better if you can shelve your manuscript for a time, as that gives you a chance to read your work as though someone else has written it.
Does it work for you? Did you enjoy reading it? Do the characters come across they way you want them to? Is the pace what the story demands? If anything doesn’t sit right, why not? If you don’t know, if you can’t answer any of these questions, then you haven’t shelved it for long enough. Take the time to do so – it’s worth it.
When you’re at the right distance, you will know. Instead of being unsure if it works at all, you will see with absolute clarity what works and what does not. That’s what you are looking for. That clarity will often supply just what it takes to fix any problem area, so taking that time to distance yourself is doubly valuable.
How long? My personal preference is three months, but everyone is different and different stories will require different lengths of time. In general, the longer you have spent on your project, the longer you need to leave it alone in order to see it clearly.
In this manner you are calling on the Reader in you to give fair assessment. Absolutely share it with your friends and people who will be fair with you and help you decide what is working and what is not, but don’t make the mistake of trying to please everyone. All anyone can give you is their opinion based on their own preferences, although picking up spelling and grammatical errors comes as a definite plus.
Thing is, you count in all of this. You’re a reader, too, and will know more deeply than anyone if your work speaks to you. If it speaks to you, it will speak to others. If you run around and produce something that pleases someone else, but does not do it for you, then you simply won’t put your passion into it, the work will not be your best.
I’m not suggesting you write in an out-of-control sort of way, I’m suggesting that you be true to yourself. If you have made a deal with a publisher to produce a certain type of book, then, yes, that would be the honorable thing to do, or eventually you will lose out. The publisher will want what he or she paid for. If you believe in writing “inside the box” and fit into the template of so many others in order to get someone to feel safe with you (no uncertainties), then yes, that’s fine too.
If, however, you want to write “outside the box” as I do, and stand out from the crowd, then do that and do that with everything you’ve got. Will you make it? I don’t know. I like to think so. One thing I do know is that if you don’t try with everything you’ve got – if you don’t follow your heart – you will always wonder what would have happened if you had.
So, why am I suggesting any of this? Do I even have a clue? Who am I, anyway? Have I been praised and pampered throughout my life and don’t know what it means to have to conform? No. I speak from experience. I’ve been there, in the firing line and under pressure to please, so don’t think I don’t know what it’s like. Here is some of what I faced:
My first husband didn’t like me writing about men. He claimed to be hugely supportive of my writing and I believed him, but that only lasted until we married. He didn’t want me thinking about men. At first he wanted me to write a “woman’s” story, a love story with a woman slavishly in love and thinking nothing else but about the man in her life. [I think those of you who have read my work can imagine my face at that one.] He didn’t like me having “masculine thoughts” or writing action. Soon, he didn’t want me writing at all.
After some years, it was all quite miserable. I did try to make the marriage work, but frankly that takes two, and my writing – a huge part of who I am – wasn’t going to be accepted. As the years went by and disapproval mounted, I ended up hiding my work and never talking about it. Progress, you can be sure, was slow.
Prior to that, during that and after that, my mother did not like my writing style, either. At all. Ever. She thought it too violent and she didn’t like the swearing. When I suggested to her that if I’m writing about, let’s say, a gang of thugs, they are hardly going to speak in a gosh-darn sort of way, to her credit, she could see that and amended her objection to women swearing. My argument then was that if a woman is about to be murdered, she should be allowed to swear.
At that point, she got fed up and countered in disgust that my writing made her “physically sick”. “Oh. Good.” I remember that bland reply very clearly because of the shock it produced. I wasn’t actually giving cheek, my mother was a smart woman and an avid reader. She read everything, including soup labels, so if she felt a strong reaction to words I had written, I must have done well. I was 15 at the time and trying to share the passion for writing that was in me.
Did her words hurt? Of course they did.
My father to this day doesn’t like my writing. He expected a little girl story and got weepy when he didn’t get one – he was so upset. By then I was 30 and had completed the first draft of what would become The Khekarian Threat, and he still couldn’t take me seriously. He not only didn’t finish reading it, he didn’t bother completing the first chapter.
Nor did my mother. I sent her a copy at the same time, hopeful that they could see how my skill had progressed and how I dealt with these “vicious villains” and finished off the tale. Both parents soundly rejected the manuscript, both copies sent back to me unread beyond a few scant pages. Happy Families? I think not.
They weren’t the only ones, but these people were important to me and influential in my life right up until the time I stepped away. I bent over backwards to please them in every other way. I was brought up to please others. I sacrificed myself every day for them (sometimes in seriously large ways) in order to “do the right thing”.
However, I noticed that they were never the ones surrendering, never the ones sacrificing, that was always presented as my role and my responsibility, but when they wanted dishonesty from me and for me to live a lie, I couldn’t do it. When they wanted me to give up my writing altogether and give up who I was, I could not do that either (yes, that was outright asked of me).
They wanted me to be someone I was not and I was never going to please them. I also knew there was no compromise, that they retained to right to stay exactly as they were, but fully expected me to drop everything I believed in and to continue to fit in with their ideals.
Where would I be if I had tried to please any of them? A writer of romance, but without sex, as that would be going too far and lets not get into a man’s head because I’m not supposed to understand such things. [Please note, I am referring to a surface-layer romance and not denigrating the genre.] Or a writer of something simple and single-tracked to show I was “trying” but God forbid I should actually produce anything, especially anything shocking or vibrant.
Neither my father nor my mother ever looked at my work again (nor did my first husband, then long out of my life, the divorce finalized). They would not even discuss it with me. My mother is now deceased. While she was alive, she never reconsidered her stance. I didn’t expect her to. I don’t expect my father to, either.
Now, just to clarify, I’m not complaining about my past, I chose to toughen up rather than to give in to such souls, and that decision has served me well. I’m using my past here to give an example. I’ve been there, under pressure to conform or give up entirely. I know what it’s like to be told that my work would be “better” if I pleased people. Except that it wouldn’t, of course, and I knew it.
So, I continued on, writing passionately the way I wanted to write, surrounded by disapproval but adamant not to give in. Outside the home, by the way, was no better. We moved too frequently for me to have any close friends, and there was no Internet way back then, so I was isolated.
Twenty five years on and I have a new life. I met Greg, honest with me and supportive from the start, although – shy from my first experience – I put off marriage for seven years (longer than my first marriage). We married in 1990, 23 years ago, and I value our relationship every day. He continues to support what I am doing and loves my writing style (“masculine thinking” and all).
As for my writing, I have a science fiction series born that has proven to be larger than science fiction. I am following my dream, following my heart. There’s certainly action and adventure – there’s sex that will more than grab your attention. The King’s Sacrifice (book two) contains a love story that could bring you to tears (I cried, and I wrote it. I don’t think I’ll be the only one brought to tears – or at least, I hope not).
Point is, I can be all of those things and actually write what others wanted me to, and still have precision weapons handling, fighting, martial arts, lust, murder, greed for power, psychics, science, aliens, trucks, motorbikes and space ships. I could still be true to myself and the energy that drives me to write this series.
The end result? Now that I’ve honed my skills and can actually produce the work I love, I am at peace with myself and my world. More and more readers are finding me and letting me know that they enjoy my work very much and want more. These are intelligent people who like a big meaty read, can grasp a complex story and value the detail in it. No doubt they are very glad that I didn’t bow to the wishes of my first husband, my mother or my father. In all honesty, had I caved in to them, I probably would have quit by now, saddened and hampered by a notion that I couldn’t be who I wanted to be.
Living your life dancing to someone else’s tune is no way to live at all.
People don’t have to like your story or your writing style. They don’t have to like your characters or the words you use. Some will, some won’t, and for the most part it won’t have anything to do with you. Write the book YOU want to read, and others will enjoy it too, more so because of the vibrancy you give it, the energy you put into it, the time and the love you spend on it. It cannot be any other way.
You are drawn in the direction you want to go for a reason. Trust that, go with that, and you will end up where you want to be.
Best of all, if you write the way you want to write, the people drawn to you will genuinely like you for what you most want to give. The relationship you have with your readers will be an honest and fulfilling one and will last Happily Ever After.
So, I will wish you Happy Writing, everyone. Cheers!