In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* Making a Story Important
* A Fallacy
* Prejudgment Stinks
* Of Interest
* The Numbers
Quotes of the Day
“Full of bull on every page.” Jack Kerouac in a letter to Allen Ginsberg about Truman Capote’s writing
“That isn’t writing at all. It’s typing.” Truman Capote about Kerouac’s On the Road
I wasn’t going to post today at all, but then I read Kelley’s comment on my previous post, “Insanity.” I assume the comment referred to my subtopic on “how to keep writing a novel.”
But as I was writing that, the notion of making a story “important” was tugging on my sleeve too.
Take a look at today’s Kill Zone blog post, “Write, and Live Forever” at https://killzoneblog.com/2021/09/write-and-live-forever.html. This article could have been titled “How to Make a Story So Important It Freezes You Solid.”
I left a comment on the article:
“I write one clean draft and publish. In that endeavor, I always bear in mind two things:
“1. I really am the worst judge of my own work, but that’s true in both directions, when I think the work is good and when I think it’s bad, and
“2. No matter what I think of the work, the reader’s opinion is the only one that matters.”
A little later in the article, James Scott Bell writes, “I recall reading a piece by an early indie pioneer who posited that maybe the idea is to be fast and not worry about top quality.”
Okay, that’s an immediate fallacy, yet it’s one that “traditional” (outline, rewrite, revise, polish) writers repeat as often as possible. And it’s pure, unadulterated bull patties. Writing “fast” does not necessarily mean a lack of “top quality.” It just means the prolific writer is spending more time in the chair.
Mr. Bell doesn’t say who the indie pioneer is, so the quote can’t be fact-checked, but frankly it doesn’t sound right. For example, I can’t imagine ANY writer saying, “Why write better? What’s the benefit?” as this indie pioneer allegedly did.
And after that bombshell, the indie writer allegedly wrote, “I’m talking about releasing a book that would average 3.7 stars from readers, whereas if I spent an extra month on it, I could average 4.2.”
Okay, let’s think about that. How does ANY writer know a book will average 3.7 stars? And how does any writer know spending an extra month on a book will increase the average to 4.2 stars? That’s just silly.
For one thing, the only way this argument could possibly be tested is by releasing a book, seeing what star-rating average it recieves over time, then “improving” it, re-releasing it, and waiting to see whether the star average goes up or down.
By the way, I don’t even do that with my first readers. They check for typos, wrong words, etc. In other words, they check for things that are black or white, right or wrong. But yes, occasionally they express an opinion about the story (e.g., “Maybe you should have blah blah blah), which I generally ignore. Why? Because what one reader likes another reader won’t like. If I chose to try to “fix” things to suit one reader’s taste, then another’s, then another’s, I would never write anything new again.
But again, all of that’s just silly. While the writer’s standing-still and working on the rewrite, the rest of the world is moving on. Reader interests change with world events, and reader tastes change with age and newly developed interests. But even that isn’t the biggest silliness in this fallacy.
The biggest silliness is the apparent ignorance of the fact that one reader’s trash is another reader’s treasure. What is a 3.7-star story for one reader is a 5.0-star story for another (and yes, a 1.2-star story to another). Don’t fall into the endless trap of trying to please everyone. You’re the writer. Your job is to write. Judging the story is the reader’s job. And frankly, what the reader thinks of your story is none of your business.
You can like your own work (or not) one story at a time, and you can speculate about what readers might like or might not like all you want. But you cannot decide for a reader what he or she will actually enjoy reading.
When you rewrite a work, or when you decide to put it in a drawer rather than publishing it, you’re prejudging your story for all of its potential readers. In effect, you’re deciding for someone else what they will or will not have a chance to enjoy. Would you allow anyone to make that decision for you?
Talk with you again later.
See “Strange, repeating radio signal near the center of the Milky Way has scientists stumped” at https://www.space.com/strange-radio-source-milky-way-center. Wow. Talk about story ideas!
See “Strange Methods: Zadie Smith’s First Twenty Pages” at https://countercraft.substack.com/p/strange-methods-zadie-smiths-first. Hey, whatever. You know my take: Write it once, write it cleanly, and move on to the next project.
See “9/11…Heroes and Houdinis” at https://killzoneblog.com/2021/09/9-11-heroes-and-houdinis.html.
See “What is the Easiest Font to Read?” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/what-is-the-easiest-font-to-read/. I use Georgia. I picked it over Times New Roman because in Georgia, the lower-case “e” doesn’t look like a lower-case “c”. Of the three fonts mentioned by name in the article, Merriweather is both free and a great font for readability. The other two are proprietary.
For fun, see “Compilation of President Reagan’s Humor from Selected Speeches” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTIfGFJqLko.
The Journal…………………………………… 910 words
Writing of WCGN 5: Tentative Title (novel)
Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX
Total fiction words for August……… XXXX
Total fiction words for the year………… 623282
Total nonfiction words for August… 4310
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 159530
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 782812
Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 13
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.
5 thoughts on “The Journal: Making a Story Important”
Hey Harvey, glad you’re getting some of the mojo back. I’ve missed the journal.
RE: The TKZ article, it sounds like Bell is (deliberately?) mixing up *a good book* with *what gets a lot of good reviews*.
If you want a lot of good reviews, that’s easy enough. Throw money at a PR campaign, and you can get almost anything to hundreds or thousands of 4-5 star Amazon reviews.
The question I don’t see answered is… do you want a lot of shiny stars on Amazon, or do you want to write books that you like and that entertain your readers?
I expect there’s SOME overlap. But I doubt it’s anywhere near the degree that the status-chasers and data-driven “write to market” crowd makes it out to be.
I’m butchering a quote from Seth Godin here, but he once said that optimizing a website based on user data inevitably leads to a porn site. I think that a similar argument applies to book selling on KDP.
Thanks, Matt. You’re right. It all boils down to what the writer wants, how insecure the writer is, and how much that insecurity manifests as a desire to control outcome. No matter how or what we write, and no matter how much we personally fret over it, some readers will like what we’ve written and some won’t. So why use up all that extra energy on revising and rewriting and polishing when we could be writing the next story instead? And an excellent SG analogy.
Especially as it concerns something so subjective as whether or not a book or a movie or a play or a painting, etc. is “good”, I think it says something unflattering about our society in general that so many seem to feel a need to form their own opinions based largely upon the opinions expressed by others, as if conforming to what others think is somehow superior to independently arriving at one’s own conclusions. Perhaps it’s just intellectual laziness–the unwillingness to devote any energy to critical thinking–or perhaps it’s actually the lack of the degree of intellect required to engage in such thinking that seems to lead so many to use what others think as a substitute, as a crutch. I also feel it’s rather hubristic to think that one’s own opinions have any real value to anyone other than himself. I personally never rely on someone else’s opinion of something and seldom even bother looking at reviews; I’m perfectly capable (and, indeed, the only one truly capable) of reading/watching/viewing/using/evaluating something and deciding whether I think it’s “good” or not. I also try to avoid the temptation to offer my own unsolicited opinions and when possible avoid giving a solicited opinion, because regardless of what works for me, “your mileage may vary” and I therefore don’t leave myself open to criticism if it turns out not to.
Agreed in full, Russ. As a fiction writer, I admit I do find value in opinions expressed as reviews. That being said, as a reader, whenever I’ve read a review I’ve always inferred “in my opinion” or “to me” as part of it, my personal way of remembering the review is only one reader’s opinion.
I have the book (there aren’t Kindle version of it, so it’s one of gems in my library) “Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews & Rejections”. It contains the quotes and bad reviews for all the stuff we count classics now.
I found I don’t know USA literature enough to recognize most of titles. But it’s a definitely great reading showing fact that opinion of anyone about a story is just an opinion.
Sadly, it’s only British and USA reviews. I wish it’s include the refusal letters for “The Good Soldier Švejk” (the world most popular Czech books refused by all publishers) or bad reviews for “Karamazov Brothers” (it was fun to learn that novel was published, but censors forbid to make stage plays based on it – because “It is indecent to show on the stage the monstrous sin of parricide. Even among the pagans, the ancient Greeks, it wasn’t allowed. Oedipus had killed Laius before the play began.”)
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