Saturday, February 04, 2006
Roast Feet, Anyone?
It's hard to believe, but a few years ago, I was a complete newbie to forums.
And before last July when I was corrupted by Stuart MacBride, I didn't know my way around blogs.
In the time since I first started participating on forums, I've learned plenty. Some of it, the hard way. By making big mistakes. Like using my real name. I've always been a pretty open person, but that's not always a good thing in cyberland.
Over time, I've had to come up with some rules for myself to try to reduce the likelihood of posting things I'll regret later. One of those rules came about because of a reading group I was participating in. The one book discussed, I had some real problems with it. I found it hard to walk the line, to express the problems I had with the book without having it twisted so it sounded like I was trashing the author. But I mean, when people keep pushing certain points, you either answer the question or say you can't talk about it anymore.
And ultimately, I've said some things that I wish I could take back.
Because sometimes, you can't get into a book for no reason other than your back hurts this weekend, or you've been so busy with work your brain is fried, or you've been struggling with insomnia and find reading hard. Sometimes, I'm in the mood for certain books, certain tv...and so when I try a book, it might not be the best time for it. Next week might be better.
Or maybe the book just isn't for me. That does happen.
But it doesn't necessarily mean the author failed. It may just mean that it isn't exactly to my preferred style. If I'd tried reading Wire in the Blood two years before I did, I don't know if I could have stomached it. It wouldn't have been the writing, it just would have been the shock. And I love Val McDermid.
I think we have to be open-minded. Our opinions change over time. Even in my 30's, I don't know it all. My tastes have changed dramatically over the years. I have to be prepared that an author that isn't tickling my fancy today might be one I'm gushing over two years from now.
This is why I'm uncomfortable with seeing people make harsh, judgmental statements on forums and blogs. "His books are shite." "She's a hack." "I know four-year-olds that write better than so-and-so." Oh boy.
I had a BIG REALITY CHECK this week. An author mentioned to me they'd read some comments about their books on a forum I've been active on for a few years.
It didn't matter that I really admire and respect this author and this author's work. I had one of those, "Oh my god" moments when I thought, "What the hell are you doing reading that forum?"
Well, it is a free country. Authors can read whatever forums they want to...
But I do wish that people would stop and think for a moment before they post. That they'd say, "How would I feel if I said this and turned to find so-and-so standing right behind me? Would I phrase it differently?" And then act accordingly.
The truth of the matter is, whether we're working in special education or as writers or teachers or marketing managers or being parents or lovers or a friend, there are days we fall short. There are days we wish we could take back words and do things differently.
As writers, we have those moments too.
Sometimes, the pressure to meet deadlines, external distractions, experimentation that doesn't pan out effectively...even an editor that's having a rough time - these can all be things that impact the quality of our work.
Every author I know works really hard. Puts pressure on themselves. Tries to improve.
I recently put this question to Mark Billingham over on his talk zone:
I'm curious to know what you find most challenging about writing. Is it coming up with the ideas or do you put a lot of pressure on yourself to improve your storytelling and writing with each book? Or do you find other forms of writing (eg short stories) more difficult?
Just being generally nosey.
and this was Mark's response:
It's certainly not the ideas, though heaven knows I wish I had a lot more of them. It's definitely just a question of trying to improve as a writer; to write a better book. There ARE pressures, some of them commercial of course, but at the end of the day you're always trying to raise your own personal bar. I can't believe any writer doesn't at least set out at the start of a new novel with that ambition. OK, there are a few who clearly don't give a toss as long as they continue to sell, but all the writers I admire are always ready to admit that they can get better and will strive to do so. Sadly of course, we often fail but there you are. What I ALWAYS find challenging is starting a book. It doesn't matter how many books you've already written, it only takes a few weeks without writing to forget that you can do it at all. You spend the first hundred pages feeling like a novice...
Now, that's someone who has book 6 coming out in a few months, book 7 is being written at the moment. So even for those who've got an established writing career, they're putting pressure on themselves to do better.
I totally respect the sincere effort. I can relate.
So next time you read something that impresses you, maybe tell the author.
And maybe when you read a book that doesn't quite live up to what you hoped, bite your tongue and give them a second chance.
We are, after all, only human. Doing our best, one word at a time.