When I find an author I love all bets are off. I want them to narrate my life, be my best friend and be my hard-ass writing mentor. I consume whatever they write (and have written if there is a backlog). I spend several days (weeks) in existential crisis after a particularly excellent book because I’ll never write as well as they do and what’s the point of anything and how come my plot is going nowhere?!
It’s vital to have these heroes. It’s important to strive and look up to those who we feel make an important and distinct mark on the world. It’s how we figure out how to do so ourselves.
It’s also vital that we don’t get so sucked in to our love of them, that we don’t look at their work critically. The beauty of criticism is in its discernment. In its challenge. We all need to be challenged, even writers we admire and hope to emulate. Not every novel can be treated equally. There is no value in that. How do we collectively and individually improve, if we are always told we are perfect? How do we know to change if we aren’t challenged to grow and develop and evolve?
I have recently read a few duds from writers I usually really enjoy and admire. (You can read those reviews here). This is always such a disconcerting experience. If you love the writer, know that you like their writing and their point of view and their style, it’s almost built in that the book will be to your liking. But the thing about novels is that they are distinct and unique and often take on a life and world of their own in the writing, almost despite the best efforts of the writer. Which is what makes them great. And sometimes is what makes them duds.
As an aspiring author myself, a part of me feels super icky about being critical of books. Like I should have the back of every author for all time. But because that is entirely unrealistic (as I’m super opinionated), I find that I can’t help myself. I have to speak up when I don’t like something, as much as I feel the need to when I love it. When I love a book, I’m a gusher. I will tell you and your friend and the ladies at the nail salon. READ THIS BOOK. I want everyone to experience the joy and heartache and angst and drama of a good read.
If I only spoke or wrote about the books I love and not about the books I don’t, I don’t know that anyone could trust my opinion.
Writers, even really good writers are fallible. Look, I love everything J.K. Rowling has ever written, down to her tweets. I would give anything to write like she does. This is J.K. Rowling’s writing world and we are lucky to be living in it. But I cannot make it past the first fifty pages of The Casual Vacancy no matter how hard I try. I’ve tried three times, it’s not happening. Even J.K.-freaking- Rowling has written a dud.
And it’s okay! It’s okay to write a dud. It’s not like it was the writer’s intent. No artist should ever create for anyone other than themselves. No artist should ever be so afraid of failure or criticism or bloggers that they don’t create.
This is a weird, dated example, but roll with me. You know that Twilight was all for Stephenie Meyer. She fanfic’d (fanficked?) her own dream. Literally. She was ABOUT that book. She was not afraid to just go for it with the vampires and the chastity and the sparkling and the angst.
I haven’t read them since they came out (because dude, of course I read them and loved them. I was a woman of a certain age and Twilight had it’s place in the sun in my life and now that’s an embarrassing thing you know about me), but I would venture to guess that Twilight itself still holds up as an honest-to-goodness, angsty YA. The rest of those books, not so great. I would classify them pretty much as duds. And it still became a franchise.
Meyer just did her thing, to the criticism of so many. Twilight is the punchline to an endless sea of jokes ten years later. But it also made a lot of people really happy. Stephenie Meyer is an example of a writer who didn’t course correct due to the criticism and just kept doing her thing. She probably should have what with the problematic dynamic of an emotionally abusive relationship at the core of the story, but she is drying her tears with her buckets of money. That’s certainly a valid way to be in the writing world.
This post took a weird turn.
There is no way to know for sure if what you are working on as an artist will speak to an audience no matter how skilled you are or how many books you’ve published. But we still need writers. We still need novels. We still need our artists to create. And what is a dud to me, is not necessarily a dud to you.
Ultimately, If I believe in a writer or love their style or voice or a particular book of theirs, chances are I’m a fan for life. I’m going back for more no matter how many duds they write.
So even though I’ve been disappointed by the books of writers I truly admire and thoroughly enjoy, I also still believe in them and their work. I believe in the importance of what they are saying and the stories they create and the characters they develop. I still believe in their mark on the world.
I can only hope that someday I will write a book that makes an impact on someone else. But if it is also met with criticism then I will
cry into my wine glass accept that criticism as helpful and supportive in my evolution as an artist.
I’ll try really hard to, anyway.
I mean, let’s just cross that bridge when we come to it, eh?
Who are your favorite writers? Do you love all of their work or is there one in their repertoire that just doesn’t do it for you?