Friday, November 18, 2011

Stay out of your own way as an Author!

Writing a book is like running over hot coals in bare feet while getting clocked on the head by your own muse, real life, publishers, reviewers, readers, and peers. Obstacles to success and mental health are too numerous to discuss here. So why should we join the gantlet ourselves? Why get in our own way?

How, you ask, can you get in your own way as an author? Unfortunately it's all too easy. Any time you insert yourself into a story you're writing it's the equivalent of jumping up in front of a bull while wearing a red leisure suit and yelling, "Yoo hoo, fathead, come get me!"

Trust me, the bull will come get you.

What the heck am I talking about, you ask? You've seen it, I'm sure, when reading a book written by someone else. The painfully non-comedic scene that tries too hard to be funny. The sudden, inexplicable political or religious reference that makes no sense for the plot and therefore sticks out like a sore thumb at a finger convention. And horribly cliched characterizations that scream your own biases.(I've given up a few well known authors for this one.)

More subtle examples would be clunkiness in your writing when portraying things you're not comfortable with, or rushed storylines, leaving the reader feeling as if you just "got it over with". Like pulling off a band aid.

I'm just as guilty of all of these things as the next writer. We are the victims of our own humanity and experiences. And, in trying to stretch ourselves as writers we sometimes bite off more than we can chew. But having said that, there is a checklist you can use to minimize the possibility of joining the gantlet against your own work:

1. Always start with the understanding that, no matter how tricky you think you are, you will not slip that political or religious bias past the reader and, unless you're writing a political or religious book, you shouldn't try, because you risk alienating the reader. Readers will trash your book in a fit of pique (I've done it myself) and never return to you. We work way too hard for our readers. Yes, you do have a right to your opinion...but everyone else doesn't have to have a right to your opinion! #:0)

2. Don't, don't, don't write about things you're not comfortable with or have no knowledge of. It will definitely show in your work. It doesn't matter if a certain genre has the potential to make you tons of money. You won't reap those rewards if you suck at writing it. Get a comfort level with the genre first. Research it. Take the time to understand its nuances, and then write it if you still feel the need. Believe me, the reader will notice the difference and you will benefit from taking that time.

3. And finally, examine your skills as a writer carefully...honestly. It is the rare writer who is good at everything. Some of us are good at funny, some of us just think we are. If you have to go around telling everybody you're funny, you probably aren't. It's a bit like the guy who borrows money from you and then proceeds to announce every five minutes that he won't stiff you on it. It's pretty much a bet he will stiff you on it. To quote Shakespeare, "Me thinks thou dost protest too much". Some of us write dark really well, some of us keep morphing into light while we're trying to force our muses to go dark (raising hand). Some can write kink, some can't. Etc. The good news is that there's a market out there for every type of writing...even stuff we wish there wasn't a market for...and, if you base your writing output on your strengths you'll gain your share of that market. Conversely, if you're not gaining your share of that fertile market, you might want to take a good, long look at what you're trying to write. Maybe you're not writing to your strengths.

Happy writing everybody!


Kayelle Allen said...

Good advice. I can add two from personal experience.
1. Don't be afraid to make your villain truly evil. No one fears a wimp. It's okay to be bad (in this case at least).
2. Let your favorite character suffer. Conflict is the lifeblood of a story. Don't go easy on them. Readers want to see a happy ending that is well earned.

Sam Cheever said...

Well said, Kayelle! I agree with all of those things. And making your villain truly evil is cathartic! I always tell people I don't have to be mean, I let my characters do it for me. LOL!