The One Thing an Author Should Never Do

autocriticaThis first part of this may sound judgmental, but it is not. Maybe more envy than anything else. You know those folks who see every interaction as an opportunity to promote their work? On Goodreads when someone is looking for an author to interview or a book to review, these writers swoop in and say, “pick me.” When I see that occur one part of me cringes thinking “well aren’t we sure of ourself,” but another part whispers, “hey remember, fortune favors the bold.” Regardless, I know my limitations and I will never be much of a self-promoter. A writer such as me would be well served by a publicist. It’s the price we introverts pay, but also probably a core source of our writing passion – the opportunity to put our thoughts on paper for public delivery.

As I said in an earlier post – don’t confuse being an introvert with being shy. I’m a talker, I conduct presentations to large audiences and I have no problem with starting up a conversation with the clerk at 7-11 or the cute server at the restaurant. My wife says I’m a natural, although harmless, flirt. I gave up arguing the validity of her statement. Flirting is to dating what writing is to promoting. You can be excellent at the former without engaging in the latter. At issue is a deadly combination in a world where self-promotion and self-marketing is critical to public recognition. That deadly combination is being confident, but also being humble. Those two characteristics mean that an author has the confidence to write, but an inability to judge whether or not the writing is good. I didn’t use the word “great” because for writers and bloggers who share this affliction, the word “great” will never share a sentence that includes his or her work…unless someone else is saying it.

While I am an excellent judge of my weaknesses, I am a terrible judge of my strengths. If you ask what I’m “great” at, I’ll answer, “well I’m pretty good at…” – see how that works? Now there are some upsides to this affliction. Lower expectations certainly mean fewer disappointments. Don’t misinterpret that statement. As I said, I’m confident in my abilities and I don’t suffer anymore self-esteem issues than the next person (the next person defined as people you could actually spend time with that don’t drive you insane with “me-me-me-me-me.”) By lower expectations, I simply mean that I don’t expect 5 star reviews on my books, I don’t expect to be on the best-seller list, and having one hundred blog followers is 99 more than I anticipated.

The additional upside is in how often I am wrong and what a pleasant surprise it provides. I have no less than 25 “blog ideas” sitting in my Scrivener binder. Most will never see the light of WordPress. Several I have written and then filed under, “no one wants to read that.” The pleasant surprise always arrives when I post something that I absolutely know will be met with “dead air”…and then it’s not. The results are the reason why I say with such confidence that I am a terrible judge of my own work. The things I am most hesitant to post are the very ones that receive the most traffic. For example, I wrote a piece called “Don’t Write That.” It was terribly boring and off topic for my Nightmirrors blog. I have no idea why I posted it and figured readers would forgive my digression. It became Freshly Pressed. On this Blog I felt the same about a number of posts…and I was wrong. The most recent examples were “I often get sick of my own voice,” and “The Legacy of Art.” This list goes on an on.

It’s the same reason that I argued with my wife about being a flirt. I don’t consider myself attractive and I don’t consider myself ugly – just average – so these alleged “flirtations” seemed ridiculous – that woman isn’t interested in me so it’s not flirting. Yeah the logic is a little hard to follow…unless you know exactly what I’m talking about. That authors are not good judges of themselves occurred to me while I was reading a post by author/blogger Sunshine Somerville. She was writing about “pretty people” and although she goes on to explain “pretty” is not necessarily related to “looks” I was thinking, “Wait Sunshine, do you own a mirror – you are one of the pretty people.” I kind of feel bad for her as I can’t imagine the nerds getting up the nerve to ask her out.(all of this makes more sense if you go and read her blog here) So while I understood the point of her post,  the content made me wonder if she sees what me and a room full of Avenger discussing nerds see. And as writers (bloggers or books) if we can’t see what’s in the mirror…can we ever hope to know the quality of the words that we type?

I wrote an article (I like that word better than post) titled Authors want Confirmations, but I believe for some of us the confirmation we seek isn’t accolades but objective – no really – objective feedback. We know we can’t judge our own work, so it’s helpful to receive objective thoughts on it. If you share the confident-humility affliction then I imagine, no I am positive, that when you read a review it is not the several great things that gain your attention (obsession) but the one perceived negative comment. Case in point. I ponied up a few hundred quid for a Kirkus Review. I know there is a horde of writers screaming “I’d never pay for a review” but I’ll deal with those misguided attitudes in a later post. Anyway, because apparently I have nothing better to do with my money I wrote a nice fat check just to see how bad my book might be. Here are the “quality” related comments from the review. Try to guess which one I remain focused on:

A. Esposito never uses the word “zombie” but crafts an epic that, at times, rivals hits like Max Brooks’ World War Z

B. The author’s take on the creatures, for example, is nothing short of glorious

C. He conveys the national scope and consequences of the outbreak with compact excellence

D. Frequently, his sharp dialogue gives way to moments of chilling poetry

E. Toward the end, however, these descriptive moments stretch into pages, dragging down a tale often filled with incredible twists.

What do you mean by “dragging down”? (author flips through the ending of the book looking for the part that sucks)

The point of this post…if in fact there is one…is that the one thing an author or blogger should never do is attempt to judge the quality of his or her own work. My suggestion is to not over think that next post idea. Give it a shot. The thing you think is your worst may be the thing people love most. And don’t abandon that manuscript until someone else gets a look. Unless your goal is to be famous posthumous. The truth is that you’re probably a lot prettier, smarter, more talented and more interesting than you think you are. Unless you already think you’re all those things and then I’d guess we can all agree that you are either perfect – or obnoxiously delusional.

On a final, final note, I’m not a fan of the sound of my own voice – it’s common to most people to feel that way. Of late, however, I have had several career related requests to narrate educational videos. I think there are better narration choices for the work, but I have conceded to the requests. I’ve been giving some thought to conducting Skype interviews for the blog and offering up podcasts just to change things up. This seemed like a good opportunity to see how easy(hard) audio uploads are, test my blog voice, and provide an audio preview of my upcoming novel – The Devil’s Hour. I’ll leave it to you to judge the quality of my voice narration because if left to me…I wouldn’t listen to me.

14 replies »

  1. First, I want to say that I like reading your blogs and I usually like what I read too, but this time? Huh… Are you kidding me? No, this time I have to say that I absolutely loved it because well… now I know I am not alone. 😛

    Voice: You seem to have a pleasant voice, however, even with my sound at max volume I could barely hear you. :/
    I’m going to have to try and listen again with headphones…

  2. Raymond,
    I think you summed up the feelings of most creative people. After reading you site for a few weeks now, and working my way through the archives, I have to say definately shine through with well written content and engaging articles (I prefer that word over post as well).

    I struggle daily in my writing for my blog and my fictional work to not hit the delete button. I finish a piece or a chapter and after edits, I think that I will be lucking to get anyone viewing or enjoying what I wrote. I have items that I believe would not interest people and be some of the most popular. Hearing someone that I believe has a wonderful site, a list of books (which are on my read list), and a grasp of prose fell the same as many of us do is…well, comforting. I do not feel alone.

    Thank you for your post today. It give me a little perspective.
    -Jerry B

Keep it sane

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