When you write a story you have no control over how others are going to react to it. Sure, there are buttons you can press and levers you can pull to try and initiate a particular response but, ultimately, a reader’s personal experiences and preferences will determine their tastes.
We all like different stuff. People won’t necessarily enjoy what you do/write/compose/think/paint… Toughen up and move on.
That’s easy to say but I had a moment that really took me aback not so long ago. An adult reader smiled at me and said, “I started reading your book … but I’m not 10 or 11 so it wasn’t really for me.”
I was gob-smacked by her thoughtlessness. She was a family acquaintance of several years. I couldn’t care less that she didn’t like my novel. It was her attitude I found offensive. I almost had to physically restrain my loyal wife.
My response was to smile back and say “I’ve had readers as young as nine and old as 97 enjoy that story. But it’s not for everyone. Each to their own.”
Since joining the Twitterverse I’ve enjoyed all sorts of insights into how authors handle different situations.
Here’s a ripper from James Ellroy, courtesy of Paris Review (from memory) that talks about how to handle critics:
“If you’re confused about something in one of my books, you’ve just got to realize, Ellroy’s a master, and if I’m not following it, it’s my problem.”
Now you’ve got to like that sort of authorial thinking.
Yes, I’m back on the mainland, still savouring the memories of sea air and mallee scrub that spell Kangaroo Island to my senses.
My research and fact-checking mission was largely successful and it’s amazing what a few days without email, Internet and mobile phones can do to reinvigorate the brain. Now that I’m back at my desk I have oodles of things to catch up on but here are a few quick musings on my last few days:
- Research can be great fun. Skimming through old newspapers is an adventure in itself – even the classified advertisements are fascinating when they’re more than a century old. An old schoolhouse that reeks of possum piss can harbour untold treasures – as can a conversation with a local.
- Research can be a double-edged sword. Discover too much good stuff and you risk adding unnecessary details/material and/or losing focus on your main storyline. I don’t want to drown readers in details that might only appeal to me.
- Ask enough people the same question and you’ll accumulate many different answers, rather than a single, definitive one.
- Your nearest and dearest can be your toughest critics. My wife has begun a read-through of my manuscript and already uncovered one major timeline problem – something that should have occurred to me but hadn’t. She also highlighted passages that “need work”. While I don’t always enjoy getting this feedback I value it immensely. Better to find out now than hear it from my agent or publisher!
- Watching someone read the manuscript is akin to a director sitting in an audience screening of his own film. I hang on whether people will laugh or gasp or cry at the right moments … It’s probably quite annoying having me around!