Thursday, March 6, 2008

Judging your own writing

Recently another writer read part of the novel I'm working on. Afterward she wrote me to say:

OK - here's the trouble with reading your stuff. After I read I don't want to write because my stuff seems one dimensional, shallow, ill-crafted. OK, enough of my pity pot!!! I'll go write some trash...

Here was my response:

Thank you! That is such a compliment.

However, you are not the only one to have that reaction. I often feel the same way when I'm reading or listening to other peoples' writing, including yours. My own stuff seems shallow and one-dimensional by comparison.

I think it's because we know what was behind our own writing, so it's actually more difficult to fill in the blanks and flesh out the characters in our imagination beyond what's on the page. We know damn well we made the whole thing up.

Whereas when reading other peoples' writing, we automatically imagine what the characters are like, what's behind their thoughts, dialog and actions, etc. We're conditioned to do that. It's easier to fill in the blanks, because the images, characters and other triggers didn't come from our own imaginations in the first place, so there's more room to add dimension.

It may also have to do with self-belief. I think it's natural to feel that somebody else must know what they are doing when they create art, whereas we know what we've gone through to create our own, and we know how tenuous it all is, or was, when we started.

But I think as time goes on, that phenomenon may diminish. For me it's less pronounced than it was. I think I've gotten enough positive feedback that I've begun to believe in my own writing. So I'm sometimes able to hear it through other peoples' ears, especailly when I'm reading aloud in a workshop.

Also, I've written so much now, over 100,000 words on the novel alone, that I don't remember everything any more. So sometimes when I'm reading something I wrote a while ago, it seems fresh, almost as if I hadn't written it myself.

In fact, that brings to mind something a wise programmer once told me when I was starting out: after two months, it may as well have been written by someone else. He was talking about programming - and the importance of writing clear and readable code, and commenting it appropriately so the next person to work on it (which might be you) will be able to understand it.

But I think this principle may apply to writing fiction (or nonfiction) too. After you've written enough, you just can't remember it all. So it becomes somewhat easier to read it objectively.

Anyway, thanks again for the compliment. Don't get discouraged; keep on writing! And don't worry. It won't be trash.

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