Why Your Opinion of Your Writing Is the One That Matters Most

Why YOUR Opinion of Your Writing Is the One That Matters Most

Sometimes it pays to think of yourself before others. Many of us grew up with the Golden Rule etched into our psyches. And most of us would probably like to think we follow that rule as often as possible. But when it comes to your writing, the Golden Rule isn’t of much use. In fact, it can be downright dangerous to your career, because if you’re trying too hard to please others in your writing, then you’re probably in grave danger of snuffing, or at least damping, your creative spark.

I once mentioned the necessity of “writing for ourselves” to a fellow writer.

“You can’t write what other people want,” I insisted. “You can’t let yourself be pressured into meeting the standards and expectations of others. You have to write what you want.”

She looked at me slightly askance. “What happened to pleasing others before yourself?”

Your Writing Should Be, First Foremost, for You

I understand the quandary. People like to please people—not only for altruistic reasons, but because when we give others what they want, they give us what we want—respect, adulation, and warm fuzzies. Pleasing people is usually way more fun than not pleasing them.

But can also be a speed bump on the road of creative vision.

Back in the days when no one read my work, it was a simple matter to write a story. I’d plop down in my desk chair and simply start putting words to the pictures and voices in my head. No muss, no fuss. I just wrote the story the way I expected it to be, because I didn’t have to worry about meeting the expectations of others.

But as soon as people actually started reading what I wrote, the fun backyard ball game suddenly morphed into an intense chess match.

The Dangers of Pleasing Others

The scariest part of being published was people (some people, anyway) liked what I wrote. And I liked that they liked it. Naturally, I wanted them to keep on liking it.

Instead of writing with an audience of one (or maybe I should say, an audience of one and One) in mind, I started trying to see my works-in-progress through the filter of what I thought others were expecting from me.

How would So-and-So perceive this scene?

Would he get the humor?

Would he appreciate the drama?

Maybe Such-and-Such likes genre fiction too much to appreciate this literary section?

Maybe Mr. Doe likes literary fiction too much to even bother reading this rip-roaring adventure sequence?

Ultimately, trying to anticipate the expectations of others is a useless and destructive habit. You can’t please everyone, no matter how much you try. And if that’s your sole focus, then you’re definitely not going to be pleasing yourself—which pretty much sucks the joy and the passion right out of your work anyway, leaving both you and your readers with an anemic, sluggish piece of writing that isn’t worth the time of their reading or your writing.

How Does This Apply to Your Editors or Beta Readers?

This same principle goes for revisions too. Constructive criticism is totally awesome and you should seek it whenever possible from qualified readers. But even the most qualified of criticism won’t always be right.

Ultimately, the author is the only person who can compare his artistic vision with the project itself and decide how the two match up and what needs to be done to perfect it. It’s easy, in a desire both to please others and to better ourselves, to give in to every whim of every critiquer. Occasionally, I’ll even feel guilty for ignoring people’s advice. But if their opinions don’t match up with the vision I have for my story, then I have every right to ignore it.

My gut feelings aren’t always right. My understanding of story technique doesn’t always measure up to my critiquers. Undoubtedly, certain stories would have been better off if I hadn’t rejected certain bits of advice. But I also have no doubt that if I ever surrender my stories, against my own wishes, to the direction of another, then whatever the result—be it good or bad—won’t be mine. And if isn’t mine, then it probably wasn’t worth writing.

Tell me your opinion: Do you ever find yourself struggling in a counter-productive way to meet other people’s expectations for your writing? How do you handle it?

Why Your Opinion of Your Story Is the Only One That   Matters

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Thank you for your advice. It sure makes sense. If what we write isn’t coming from somewhere deep within ourself, then it’s not worth the effort.

    I got your book and I’m starting it this evening. Can’t wait.

  2. Yes, well put. Strangely, it’s sometimes a hard concept for folks to grasp – esp. Christians. We like to please other people.

    Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy the book.

  3. Thanks for that. I used to write for myself to. My first book was written just to see if I could. With my newest book, I’m writing for the mass audience and try to have something for everyone. I know my work will not please all readers or Christians no matter how much I tinker. On Absolute Write a writer’s agent wanted her to completely gut her story and have the romance switch from girl/boy to girl/girl. I don’t mind taking advice and making revisions on plot points, but that’s ridiculous. I have to please myself with my story and ultimately God. I can’t worry about people.

  4. That’s crazy. I think all but the most desperate among us would refuse such a radical change. It’s usually pretty easy to spot and resist the blatant attempts of others to control or change our work. It’s the subtle little influences that are often hard to fight.

  5. Very, very well put. I’ve come to realize the quickest way to writer’s block is to imagine my kids reading my work someday. And the thing is, like it or not, they definitely like me, but that single image can stop me cold. And as you said, toning things down takes out the spark and leaves just words.

  6. I’ve deleted writing (personal stuff mostly) for that very reason and lived to regret it. To survive as a writer, you have to be so comfortable with who you are (either that, or pretty darn good at faking it) that you can show your insides to the world without flinching.

  7. Hi.

    I’m glad you added me on Twitter, because I love your blog. LOVE! It’s so interesting, and informative. When I find a new blog, I normally read through a few previous posts, but never as far back as I did with yours. I think I’ve just spent at least 30min reading backwards. I will definitely be back.

  8. I always appreciate it when you give me permission to ignore you!

    Sometimes it isn’t just what we write that doesn’t appeal to our critters and others, but the way we write it. I’ve noticed you and I have stylistic differences that we’re always correcting in each other. And I imagine there are times we each ignore the other!

  9. Lynn W. says:

    A saying comes to mind, “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all of the time.”

  10. @littlescribbler: Wow. Thank you! I’m sure I’ll enjoy trading tweets with you. Love your moniker, BTW.

    @linda: What?! You ignore me? JK

    @Lynn: And that brings another saying to mind: “Just about every book every printed contains something that someone objects to.” – Studs Terkel

  11. In my opinion, there are two pitfalls waiting for a writer: Listening too much to critics and not listening enough.

    In the end, it is your voice to which you must remain true.

    Nice blog. I’m glad I stopped by.

  12. Thank you! I’m glad you did stop by. Yes, as with most of the “rules” of writing it’s a delicate line to walk. Probably, we tend to vacillate between the two all our lives.

  13. Thanks for your post. I need to remember your advice and write first for myself and not for the market etc. At one time no one wanted science fiction, yet it’s my passion. Now editors are interested again. Like the flu, the trends change every year.

    I’m going to subscribe to your blog.

  14. The thing about trends is they change so rapidly. Science fiction can be the height of popularity when you start writing a book, and by the time you’re done, something else has taken it’s place. You can’t chart the market.

    Thanks for reading!

  15. “And if isn’t mine, then it probably wasn’t worth writing.”

    thanks. i needed the reminder. i always do my best writing when i’m making up a story for me.

  16. Me too. And, ironically, as your career grows and more and more people read your work, the harder it is to write for just *you*. But it’s no less important!

  17. thomas h cullen says:

    After nearly fifty failed agent queries, no successful review requests (except the one I paid for), and nearly eighteen months since finalising it, I’m absolutely nowhere with The Representative:

    Despite imaginately having reached furthest with it!

    You have to be prepared for life’s game. Knowing its rules – as well as its boundaries – you have to prepared to wait out all the cycles necessary, and each of the instances where those cycles’ rules and boundaries get reset, and to just keep going till it is you’ve worn them down enough to the point where finally you’ve made a breakthrough.

    An essential trick is this very awareness! Being aware of the pattern! Being aware of reality’s resetting, and other human beings around you resetting. To have this awareness (as upsetting, and as even distressful as it can be) is what’s essential to not just magnificent storytelling but to chances of making a breakthrough.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Success is different for everyone. If we understand *why* we’re writing a specific story, it’s much easier to avoid frustration and disappointment when external circumstances don’t line up like we might have hoped.

      • thomas h cullen says:

        The long-term plan, is to have had the world informed of and then been shaped by The Representative – a currently just vague notion.

        Reality is vast, and unlike people its fully designed to allow progression. Our minds are our only barricade.

        I’ll keep being patient, keeping in touch always with “all reality”, as well as the desire to never settle with only using my intelligence for others not to see.

  18. I’m slowly coming round to this. Ultimately, whether I get published or not, I want to continue enjoying to read the things I write. It’s why I sudden pick up an old draft because I want to read that moment where I left my characters in peril or whatever. If all I have in the way of novels are single copies of my drafts that I had bound at Staples, that’ll be fine. At least I’ll be reading them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      We all want to sell books and make a living doing what we love. But the money is never worth sacrificing the *reason* we love writing in the first place. Follow your heart, not the market.

  19. I’m so glad to hear someone say the author is the ultimate expert of his story and vision.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There’s always room for improvement in the technical aspects. But the vision is all us. Otherwise, why write?

  20. The answer is YES, and how I handled it was: POORLY. I wrote humor under a pseudonym for a popular mag and even though it was awesome and heady when I was supported right away, it became increasingly more stressful as fan-hood increased. I could not keep their voices out of my head while I wrote, and then the worry and what ifs of what they MIGHT think of this or that joke, “ugh, this is too cheesy” or “ugh, that’s the cop out joke,”. I already had perfectionist tendencies, but that experience really warped and polished that into an unhealthy shine. Eventually it crushed me and I had to stop all together. Well, and management was rough there too, so I left with a fleet of others. But the JOY left me long before that. It took me (and is still taking me) years to learn to write again with the joy I used to have versus the stress that I developed from that experience. It would be great to write like a colt at pasture again. My latest mantra has lately been, “I want to love writing again, I want to have FUN”, versus the typical writer want, “I want to publish a bestselling series”. I just want to love it again. Otherwise, why are we all even bothering to do it?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      We all want to be published and read. But I think very few of us are really ready for the pressures that involves. It requires some brain rewiring after that first book comes out in order to be able to keep the pressures at bay and write for the same reasons you did before.

      • Too true, the reality is different from the fantasy. And a lot of our pressures are internal. Ah if only this wasn’t too common and WAS easily fixable. I take heart in the many, many, stories of successful writers who’ve struggled and gnashed their teeth. A hurdle to be overcome, for sure.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Although, of course, there *are* external pressures, you’re totally right in what you say about most of them being self-imposed. Once we realize that, the whole thing is a lot easy for us to get our brains around.

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