“Um, You Weren’t There”

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* “Um, You Weren’t There”
* A Fun Diversion
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud, either.” Leo Burnett

“The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see.” Ayn Rand

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” Soren Kierkegaard

“Um, You Weren’t There”

I learned a very long time ago that for a concept to sink in so I could finally realize its truth and use it, sometimes I had to hear the concept three or four (or more) times in different ways.

Consequently, when I started passing along what I’d learned, I carried with me the assumption that those who might not understand a concept I expressed in one way might understand it if I expressed it in another.

One of the most valuable concepts to learn is perfectly articulated in the old saw, “A writer is the worst judge of his or her own work.” That statement is absolutely true, but I’ve finally realized its essence: “A writer should never judge his or her own work.” Let me ‘splain.

Many writers, when they believe their story is good, fall back on that saying: “Well, I’m the worst possible judge of my own work, so the story can’t really be good.”

Pause here for a moment. Read that paragraph again, and this time notice the obvious lockstep with the standard myth that you aren’t good enough, skilled enough, knowledgeable enough, talented enough, etc. to create a fiction on your own.

Now, please allow me a digression:

The gaggle who promote that myth have thrown you under the wheels of a bus so they can then pull you back out in the nick of time and appear to save you by selling you their latest book on how to write fiction.

In that book, they will say nothing that hasn’t been said at least a million times since the fervor for the myths started in the 1940s. Some of you probably own books that all mimic the same advice, though it’s sometimes worded a little differently.

They and those who don’t know any better (see any group or board populated with young writers) will tell you endlessly that you need to plan, plot, and outline before you write.

That you then need to read critically what you’ve written, revise it, and then seek critical input from others who will read your story critically with an eye as to how they would have written it. As Twain wrote (paraphrasing), No urge is greater than the urge to change what another person wrote.

Interesting here to note, of the members of your critique group, they will never read your story as it was meant to be read, for pleasure. If they read it at all after it’s published, they will read it only to see whether you’ve done what they recommended.

After that “process” Those who write the how-to books and others who propagate the myths will tell you that you need to rewrite your story. Then you need to submit it to beta readers and sensitivity readers and others who, like the members of your critique group, will actively look for things that don’t please them. Of course, more rewrites will follow.

And with every critical, conscious-mind revision and rewrite, you veer farther and farther from your characters’ unique, original, authentic story and your own unique, original, authentic authorial voice.

That’s the end of my digression. Thank you.

Pause here for a moment.

Take a deep breath and think way back about the very first story you ever told. Not the first story you wrote, but the first one you told. (You might have thought of it as a lie.)

Remember? You were making up stories long before you even knew there was such a thing as the alphabet or how to manipulate the letters into words and sentences with a pencil on a Big Chief tablet.

You can still do that.

You have been absorbing Story subliminally your entire life. Subconsciously, you know different types of story structure. You’ve read them in novels and short stories, and you’ve watched and heard them on television and in films.

When you come in excited or agitated from a recent trip in your car, maybe just to the grocery store and back, and tell your significant other what happened, why you’re so excited or agitated, you’re telling a story.

You do so without seeking input. You do so without revision or rewording. You simply report what happened, probably slanted slightly to emphasize the more important facts while downplaying those that are less important or don’t matter at all to the current story.

And again, you do so without seeking input. In fact, if someone so much as mutters “That couldn’t have happened” you become indignant and defend your story: “Um, excuse me, but you weren’t there!”

Here I’m reminded of a discussion Lee Child had with his New York editor over lunch. The editor talked about a certain mini-scene and said how wonderful it would be if it had occurred at a different place in the book.

Lee nodded. “I agree. That would be better. But that isn’t what happened.” That was Lee Child saying to his editor, “You weren’t there.”

So why don’t we as writers take that same indignant attitude about the fiction we write? Why don’t we defend our work, vigorously? Why don’t we tell other members of our critique group, “Um, you weren’t there!” Or for that matter, why do we employ a critique group at all?

The number one reason is that old saying again: We are the worst judge of our own work.

Okay. You’re right. I agree. After all, I started this post by saying that old saw is true. We really are the worst judge of our own work. That’s an important concept to remember.

But also remember the concept is true both ways. When we think a story we’ve written is good, that’s because we are the worst judge of our own work.

But equally importantly, when we think a story we’ve written is BAD, that too is because we are the worst judge of our own work.

And that, at long last, is my point: The two attitudes cancel each other out. You ARE the worst judge of your own work, period. Good OR bad. Deal with it.

“You ARE the worst judge of your own work, period.
Good OR bad. Deal with it.

And that’s a long-winded way of illustrating that your opinion of your own work simply doesn’t matter.

So why bother trying to judge your own story at all? Write it, publish it (or submit it) and move on to the next story.

Put it out there so readers can decide for themselves whether it’s good or bad. It isn’t your place to prejudge for readers what they will or won’t like.

And as for the members of your critique group, their opinion matters even less than yours does. Why? Because when the story happened, um, they weren’t there.

Talk with you again later.

Of Interest

See “And a Lawyer Friend Said, “I Told You So.”” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/and-a-lawyer-friend-said-i-told-you-so/.

See “Are You Making Less Money…” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/are-you-making-less-money-with-your-writing-at-the-moment-youre-not-alone/. See PG’s take.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1250 words

Writing of Wes Crowley: Deputy US Marshal (WCG8SF3)

Day 1…… 2815 words. Total words to date…… 2815
Day 2…… 2034 words. Total words to date…… 4849
Day 3…… 2650 words. Total words to date…… 7499
Day 4…… 2209 words. Total words to date…… 9708
Day 5…… 4214 words. Total words to date…… 13922
Day 6…… 2299 words. Total words to date…… 16221
Day 7…… 2136 words. Total words to date…… 18357
Day 8…… 1688 words. Total words to date…… 20045
Day 9…… 2712 words. Total words to date…… 22757
Day 10… 3052 words. Total words to date…… 25809

Total fiction words for January……… 16101
Total fiction words for 2023………… 16101
Total nonfiction words for January… 6490
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 6490
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 22591

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 71
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer because of my zen-like non-process. If you want to learn it too, either hang around or download my Journal Archives at https://hestanbrough.com/the-daily-journal-archives/, read them, and try WITD for yourself. The archives are free.