Monday, November 4, 2013

Success and Writing—What Keeps Us Going

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
In many ways, I’m the biggest lurker out there.  I do try to comment on friends’ blogs, but for the vast majority of the blogs I visit in a week (which is in the hundreds), I skim and share. 
Some of what I see and have seen over the years makes me sad.  I’ve seen writers talk about how beaten-down they’ve been from the rejection cycle, from reader reviews, from lack of family support or publisher support. I’ve seen a lot of self-doubt and a lot of people quitting. 
Interestingly, though, I’ve seen a lot of writers who blogged that they were quitting writing only to pop back on the scene months later.  They couldn’t stop.

I understand where they’re coming from.  I have over 450 customer reviews on Amazon for at least two of my books.   I’d say at least one or two out of every four or five is a real stinker.  The worst are the ones that you get absolutely no helpful feedback from whatsoever—hey, at least give me something to correct, y’all. What didn’t you like?  I’m always searching for ways to improve.  Did a character seem flat to you? Ending wasn’t believable?  Protagonist was unsympathetic?  Is there some sort of takeaway, some sort of actionable tip that I can get from this wretched review?  For heaven’s sake…just let me know.
What keeps me going are the three or four out of every five reviews who enjoy the books and take the time to write a customer review to say so. I can totally understand writing a review for something you dislike (you’re angry you wasted your valuable time), but it’s a real gift when readers write a positive review.  Similar to the negative reviews, it’s also helpful if they pick out what they do like so much—so that I can provide more of it next time.
It’s human nature to feel more motivated to complain about something that bothers you than to praise something that you enjoyed or that worked well. This was brought home to me last week.  My son is in the process of researching college review websites where students and alum write in or are videoed talking about their school.  A large number of the hundreds of reviews are negative, no matter what college he looks at.  I reminded him—kids who are unhappy with their school are more likely to put it on the record than someone who’s enjoying a mostly positive experience.
We can’t only focus on our reviews and our sales stats.  Ultimately, many of us write for ourselves.  Even if all my readers abandoned me tomorrow, I’d still be writing.  Writing isn’t only a habit, it’s a way of looking at the world.  That lens is always there.  I write about the things I see, the things I don’t see, the things I wish I saw, the things I’m glad I don’t see.  I’m sure if I weren’t writing these things down, I’d end up talking to myself, spilling over with all the ideas that rattle around in my head and all the different character voices that chirp up.  Yes, writing is much better than simply being a flaky woman muttering to herself.
Although I’d write if I had no readers…the main reason I write is for my readers.  I love hearing about things I’ve done right so that I can duplicate it in future books. 

 I came across an interesting post (in my lurking) recently—“Dear Writers: Success Is Mattering to Somebody” by Kyran Pittman.  Her takeaway point (the whole post was inspiring, I thought):
You don’t have to be the next big thing to be a success in writing, or in anything else. You just have to make the next thing that matters to someone and go on to make the next thing after that. One thing that matters after the other, for as long as you can. That’s work anyone can be proud of.
She summed it up well.  The reader emails, the positive reviews, the encouraging notes on Facebook—those are what keep me writing in the public area (I’d never stop writing, privately).  And they also function as quality control…I hate disappointing readers.  That’s the reason I keep plowing ahead, trying to get better, sucking it up during the days when I know I’ve written some really awful passages.  I’ll fix the story, I’ll improve, I’ll deliver something for readers to enjoy…and if some don’t enjoy it, I can try to pull out the constructive criticism to build with next time.  
What keeps you going? 
 Image: MorgueFile: mercucio2