Recently I engaged in a disagreement with a bestselling writer who is also a mentor of sorts.
The disagreement had to do with whether, when a reader is ejected from a story because of a fake detail or other inanity, that is the result of the reader’s taste. I argued that it’s the fault of the writer.
I do understand my mentor’s point. If something simply isn’t to your taste as a reader, there’s nothing the writer can do about that. After all, how can the writer account for the taste of every reader?
So should the writer strive for perfection? Of course not. Especially in writing, perfection really, seriously doesn’t exist.
But the writer should srive for improvement of his or her own abilities in the writing and storytelling craft.
Writing is nothing more than communication. For just one example, if you use a lot of extraneous commas in your work, you will run off fewer readers if you learn (with your conscious, critical mind) how to use them to direct the reader in the reading of your work.
Then when you understand that use, your subconscious creative mind will apply commas in a way that will run off fewer readers. Your stories will resonate more clearly and attract more readers.
Of course the same thing goes for word choice, sentence length, paragraph and chapter length, pacing, and so on.
You learn what you need with the conscious, critical mind. Then you apply it with the creative subconscious as you write.
I think of it as a kind of naturalization, in that once you learn and understand a concept, you will apply it “naturally,” meaning without giving it a first thought.
And we know that is possible. It’s why you put a period at the end of a sentence without having to think about it. It’s why when writing by hand we “naturally” or automatically cross the lower-case T and put a dot above the lower-case I.
The use of punctuation, sentence length and all the rest is just as natural or automatic once we’ve learned it and understand it.
In the spirit of full disclosure for those of you who are following the exchange between my mentor and me, when I read something by a bestselling writer that pretty much sucks canal water from all 50 states, the main reason it annoys me personally is because I know my own stories are so much better.
In his initial response to me, my mentor wrote in part, “…you are asking a lot of that bestseller to always write a book you love, and not make some choice you do not like. Sort of a large ego there, don’t you think?”
But that was a misunderstanding of my intent, or maybe a misreading of what I wrote.
I don’t expect any writer, even a bestseller, to “always write a book I love.” I only expect him not to use fake details that throw me out of the story after I’ve already suspended my sense of disbelief and spent money for his book. As a reader, I should be able to expect that level of care for the craft.
To me, the large ego is the one the writer engages when he marks up my unintentional notice of his bad writing to a matter of my personal taste rather than to room for improvement in his ability.
As an aside, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like works by Ray Bradbury or Raymond Chandler. Just sayin’.
Just always remember one thing: The reader doesn’t need you or me.
There are millions of writers out there from whom the reader may choose. We, on the other hand, need every reader we can get.
We can’t afford, figuratively or monetarily, to run off even one that we could have retained by the simple application of correct details in our writing.
‘Til next time, happy learning and happy writing!
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