A Writer’s Confession

I have a confession to make.

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed or not, but … I’m a little weird.

See, I’m sort of a set of dichotomies, opposites pulling on each other.

I’m sensitive and caring, but calloused and aloof. I’m intelligent and stupid. I’m capable and inept. I’m brave and cowardly. I’m a man of faith who doesn’t practice what most would think of as the religion I profess.

And I’m a writer who loves to be read and is afraid to be read.

Know what I mean? No, how could you.

See, the problem is this:

I love when people read my work. There’s something gratifying and very boosting about having your work read and appreciated. I thrive on the feedback, folks coming back to me to tell me how much they loved this description or that description, how the dialog is so realistic, how the words painted pictures in their heads. Love it. Don’t we all? Isn’t that at least part of why we write? Because we want that interplay, that reaction, with the reader? We’re all junkies to the responses in some ways, aren’t we? Otherwise, why bother with submitting for publication? We’d be entertaining ourselves, and Lord knows, that’s no fun. I can find better ways to do that than typing, for certain.

At the same time, I’m scared to have someone read my work. The more I think someone can cast a critical, jaded and jaundiced eye at my writing, the less eager, confident and distant I am. If I think someone’s got the skill, and the intent, to shred my stuff — I’m chicken. I don’t want it to happen. I think if it does, the result won’t be good. Then I read stuff online and hear from other writers that critiquers (this is NOT a word, by the way; it should be “critics”) aren’t there to help you figure out what you did right and pat you on the back for the good parts of your work. They’re there to identify, highlight and magnify what you screwed up, so that the ridicule and humiliation serve as a learning tool and you, theoretically at least, become a better writer on the far side of the critique, having learned they way a soldier in a firefight learns.

That’s my spin on it, of course, and if you can show me the critic who admits to being unduly cruel or harsh in their critique I’ll be floored. But that’s probably how it feels to the one receiving the critique. And because I’m not one to sit around and let someone hurl insults … I’ve not done it yet. I haven’t even had a genuine beta reader except for my loving wife, who hasn’t had a negative comment to make about my writing since I abandoned the POS that was my first attempt at a novel in ten years. (And man, was it a stink-burger.) She tries hard, but she’s also human, and only ONE human at that.

23 thoughts on “A Writer’s Confession

  1. Oh, I’m the same way. I love to write, and I like getting feedback, but I’ve been avoiding posting my fiction and such until very recently on my blog because of the fear that my writing sucks.

  2. Hi, Leapsecond! Welcome, and thanks for taking the time to comment! I really appreciate it.

    Y’know, for some reason, posting online didn’t bug me. I think if I’d gotten too many negative comments it would’ve, but I either got nothing or positive feedback. So I kept on.

    Weird. Like I said, I’m a series of stupid dichotomies.

    But now I’m off to read your fiction so I can be sure and be rude and condescending if I think it sucks.

    (Just kidding. I wouldn’t dream. But I am going to read some. 🙂 Oh, and if you’d like to read mine (but please don’t feel obligated to), I have a fiction blog dedicated to it. I think there’s a link on the main page of this blog.)

  3. I only have one story up right now, that I posted yesterday. My writing habits are erratic at best; I think of some plot/concept that I could base a story around, I write a page or so, then I decide it sucks and throw it in the proverbial trash.

  4. Leapsecond — Well, we all go through that, I think. I’ve screwed up more ideas than I’ve been able to get down correctly, hands down, and I’ve tossed out ideas I thought were good and can’t understand why I thought that in the first place, so you’re not in new territory.

    I liked the story “In One Moment”. I have to admit the question of what they all have in common has me thinking about it. Nice work on that one.

    And I read the one about the journalist on the plane that goes down. Interesting concept. 🙂

  5. i’m not particularly good in writing. i’m still learning and grammar is still defective. i’d say i have creative thinking. i’m afraid that one day a mr. know-it-all linguist would rattle on some areas of my ineffeciency instead of what i’m really trying to say.

  6. Rommeldb — Oh yeah, they’re out there, just waiting for you to slip up. I once made the mistake of commenting to someone looking for help on a forum with some comic book stuff he’d written. I mentioned that because he used the passive form “had been” a lot in his writing, it slowed the pace of the piece and detracted from the work.

    But, along came a grammarian who reamed me publicly for saying “passive” when technically it’s NOT the passive voice but the “past perfect” tense, which expresses events happening previous to the events of the past tense. I’ve never spoken up about helping someone with technical aspects of writing again. And until I go get my degree in English, I won’t. But I stand by what I said — the tense chosen was more passive and a more active verbiage choice would’ve helped.

    So yeah — the sharks are there, waiting to gut you.

  7. Darcknyt: There is no right answer to “what they have in common”; I constructed the mini-stories first, THEN the question. The question is supposed to make you think, like, “Well, they’re all human. Or they all have hope.” I can’t really tell you what my opinion is of what they have in common because that would eliminate your job as a reader… Unless you really want me to tell you, of course.

  8. Leapsecond — You accomplished your goal, at least with me; I was thinking about it and looking for a common thread. A neat concept!

    And if you want to spill, please feel free!

    I got a great giggle out of it either way. Thank you! 🙂

  9. The stories could be about the same people. In One Moment signifies memory, as all memories take place in our mind’s eye “a moment at a time”. Each “character” could be part of the same person or people. ugh, it’s hard to explain.

  10. The early experiences with a critique group will definitely shape you one way or the other. Finding the right crit group with the right mix of minds committed to growing you is tough.

    A fan club will never help you grow.

    A masochist/sadist fetish enclave won’t help you grow either.

    But… dude… Chicago. For all it’s suckitude, it’s… Chicago. You have more crit group resources available to you than 94% of the rest of the US population. If you don’t leverage that kind of aspiring writer density, you’re wasting a real opportunity.

    Just sayin’.

  11. Hey, Dwight, how’s it goin’, bud? Nice to see you.

    I know what you say is true, and you’ve been down this road ere I; and I need to take that advice. I need to grow, no two ways about it — which of us is perfected in our craft?

    But dude — DUDE — I’m chickenshit. No way ’round it, man. I’m a chickenshit plain ‘n’ simple, and before I get in front of either one of the enclaves or one of the clubs, I’ve gotta get the cajones to even FIND one.

    Any input you have, D, is welcome here. Big time.

  12. Darc, I am the same. Terrified to put my stuff out but writing groups are good overall. So is taking a workshop based class.

    Critics are supposed to highlight strengths and weaknesses because in a way they are teachers. As a former English teacher my job was never to shred but to find stuff that should be cut, improved and applauded. Not necessarily in that order.

    I am taking classes through the University this fall to hone a bit and focus more. I already have my project for NanoWriMo. The manuscript I am working on now? I have scoped out the publisher to send it too (they like new authors and off beat/fantasy reads).

    I applied to the Writer’s Workshop in Iowa City years ago. They basically told me I sucked. I believed them and spent way to many years denying what I am – a writer. The people there at the time just weren’t my audience.

    Get out there and find a group.

  13. Annie — Wow, I’m not sure whether to be encouraged or disheartened! 😉

    Thank you for the advice. You and Dwight both have experience with these things, and I need to take your input seriously. I guess after the second round of edits it’s off to find a group. Somewhere.

    In the meantime, I’d love to find out what publisher that is, and see about how offbeat and fantastic they’d consider my work. Willing to share? 😉

    Thank you again. I really appreciate it, and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

  14. Nice post. I pretty much agree with everything you say about writing!

    I actually write as well, but I write screenplays on my spare time! So you write novels eh? It is pretty sweet knowing that people out there read your blogs, but it is a little heartbreaking knowing that some people will end up bashing and crashing what you write!

    Well, guess what? Screw ’em (I would use the “F” word, but I don’t know whether or not you want that language on your site, haha). If you’re happy with what you write, than your self gratification contributes much more to you as a person than some schmuck who felt cheated by the book/blog/screenplay’s ending.

    I got some pretty neat-o ideas up my sleeve for films, and just write them down ASAP on paper so I never forget them.

  15. Franktown — Sounds interesting! You should check Craigslist once in a while; they often post openings for screenwriters. Check it out, and thanks for coming by!

    I’m not too stressed about the language, but do try to keep it to a “PG” rating if I can.

  16. “Testicular” fortitude? Is that better of worse than the “intestinal” variety?

    I know what you mean about being afraid to let others see your work. For the longest time, even after I started posting Oasis on the web, I wouldn’t tell people I know offline about my writing hobby.

    One thing that helped me (online) was the realization that there are a lot of people online. And even if the overwhelming majority would never read a novel with the word “zombie” in it, if I did my part I could still find at least a few somebodies out there that would like it. The internet was my only hope at an audience.

    And as I’ve found a few of those online somebodies, I’ve been more prone to talking to a few real life somebodies. Now I’m happy to talk and share my work with just about anybody. As it ends up, people are much bigger jerks online than they are in real life.

  17. Bryce — Yeah, basically I lack the balls to show my work to people I think might be less than supportive. Read: “Chicken”.

    I think you’re right, though; I think people are bigger jerks behind the anonymity of the Internet than in real life. I would bet there’s plenty of people I could have review my work who wouldn’t be asses about it.

    Thanks for the support. I think you’re onto something here. 🙂

  18. Oh, and Darc, about the grammar nazi – I think you were both right. It may indeed been in the “past perfect” tense, but it was also in a “passive voice.” What you described about the passive voice is exactly what I’ve read about the subject from guys like Dwight Swain, Sol Stein, Stephen King, and Orson Scott Card. If the grammerian didn’t understand that, then they’ve spent too much time reading “Ethan Frome” and “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and nowhere near enough time reading actually enjoyable fiction.

  19. Bryce — You’re right, I had a point. I may, however, have used the term “passive voice” incorrectly or something. I knew he was right — he’s sort of famous for that sort of stupid nit-picking — but he’s also wrong, in that the story is stalled and dragged, the reader removed from it when that sort of phrasing is used (and I see it used a LOT).

    But thanks for the confirmation; I feel better about it. I just didn’t want to argue at the time.

    Now I sort of wish I’d stuck to my guns.

  20. Hey. I’m a walking contradiction too. How bout that. Don’t you love being weird? Someday, the freaks will rule the world. Thanks for stopping in at my blog and posting a comment. Critiquers should aim to both affirm and offer constructive criticism. Crushing spirits should not be allowed, like an unwritten code or something. Hopefully you can find some that will help you improve your work. I found some great ones at thenextbigwriter. Take care.


  21. Hi, Courtney, and welcome! I’m glad you stopped by, thank you.

    I do like being weird … to a point. I want some things to be normal, but I don’t mind being different in positive ways … if that makes any sense.

    I believe the law against being a jerk critic is long overdue. And I hope I have the courage to press on before it’s passed, or I’ll be long gone before I show my work to anyone that may help me improve. 😉

    Thanks for stopping by again, and it was my pleasure to be able to read your blog. 🙂

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