Monday, May 16, 2016

This Is Uncomfortable

We need to talk.

Do those four words conjure a deeply seated reaction? A fight or flight response? How can anything good come from those words?

We need to talk.

And yet, here I am, spitting them out with carefree abandon, happy to know it may be a trigger phrase. Well, button up that rain coat and let's get down to why we are here: It's your writing. We need to talk about your writing.

Oh, did I strike a chord there? A sore spot? A tender nerve ending, like finger nails on a chalk board?

Before you get too defensive, let me ask why you are getting defensive at all? The answer, on the surface, is easy: It is an art that you have emotionally invested in. Any critique of the art is a critique on you as a person. At least that is how it feels. How do I know? Because I feel the same way. Let me explain.

I tend to write about dark, troubled characters; flawed and seeking redemption from their sins. It is easy for me to write this way, as these characters are, in many ways, me. If you critique my writing, you are critiquing my personal journey towards forgiveness. Does this mean I do not seek critiques? That would be foolish. Writing groups, beta readers, critique groups, my editor...all these things transform my personal story into a story for the masses. The end product so much different that what I set out with, but all the better. It is the journey that is cathartic.

So where does it leave us, in terms with your writing? Remember, we need to talk about it.

What is your comfort level when others are reading your work? Do you start with the F/F (friends and family) or do you go straight to your peers, like critique groups?  Do you feel you must preface you work before handing it over? Do you have a twinge, or even a shock of shame knowing your reader will find issues, no matter how small?

These are common feelings that manifest into procrastination, stalling, rewriting and excuse finding. Are you guilty of this? I know I am.

In my adventure on solving this issue I have found an even greater level of discomfort. Yes, it can get worse. I have started writing in a genre I neither read nor write. Characters in situations I have little knowledge of in a book that, if I saw it on a shelf, I would not pick and read. How's that for a sales pitch?

First, why would I do this? And second, why would I admit this publicly?

I am doing this for two reasons:

  1. An experiment in story telling. Taking characters and events in situations I have no knowledge of and applying the craft to see what I can learn.
  2. I have no choice. The story is dumping out of me...I have no idea where it came from.

This all leads to a particular set of problems: What the hell am I writing, and who would want to read it? How to I coach the reader as I hand it over to them? "I don't normally write like this, so if it's bad, don't blame me." Why would the reader need coaching, anyway?

Here's the secret I've learned. They don't.  They are just readers, looking for a story that moves them. It doesn't matter if it is about cowboys, or aliens, or old women in a nursing home dreaming of Elvis. If the characters are strong, the conflict real, and the voice unique, your reader will only want your story.

There's the rub, isn't it? In order to overcome your fear of the reader, you need to overcome your fear of your writing. 

As for me and my crazy adventure, every day the story falls out of me, and unfolds in directions I had no idea it would take. Is it good? I have no idea. Will I let someone read it? Sure, but only after hours of coaching and excuse making. 

Eric is one of the Podcasters at @typehammer and you can follow his writing adventure on twitter @elmwriting

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