Writing—So Easy a Caveman Can Do It

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Recently a Facebook friend shared a post with me regarding Indie Musicians versus Indie Authors. It appears our culture has a fascination and reverence for the Indie Musician whereas Indie Authors face an immediate stigma. We authors have to continually prove ourselves, whereas musicians don’t (at least not in the same way). My friend seemed perplexed, but to me it’s very simple.

We’re not even going to address the flood of “bad” books. Many writers rush to publish before they’re ready, don’t secure proper editing, etc. But I feel the issue is deeper and it reflects one of the many challenges authors face and always will.

People give automatic respect to a musician because not everyone can play an instrument or sing. Simple. It’s clear that artist can do something many cannot.

As writers, we have an insidious enemy. People believe what we do is easy. If we are good writers, we make it look effortless. I recall being a kid watching the Olympics. The gymnasts made those handsprings look like nothing. Being four years old, I dove in…and broke my arm…twice (because I’m an overachiever that way).

The blunt truth is everyone has a story to tell. They do. Every life can be fascinating in the hands of a skilled author. Every idea can be masterful in the hands of a wordsmith. Ah, but the general public assumption is that the only thing standing between them and being J.K. Rowling is merely sitting down and finishing the story. Many believe that, because they’re literate and have command of their native language that they can do what we do.

Geiko Caveman.

Geiko Caveman.

Of course, this isn’t the case (as we know all too well). A trained author draws the reader into a world of magic where the audience doesn’t notice the wires and mirrors, only the floating woman. We blend plot arc and character arc to drive tension.

We must develop layered, dimensional “people” and blend in setting and world-building where it’s so integrated it’s probably unnoticed. In fact, if people do notice, likely that section needs edit. Great dialogue is a skill. Subtext, theme, and on and on.

Readers generally don’t appreciate how we’ve done this, they only know we’ve created this magic when they get lost in the book, when they can find no “good” place for a bookmark. This is one of the reasons I strongly caution novelists starting “writing blogs.”

Readers don’t care about structure, POV, word echoes, verb issues, or formatting unless we screw them up. Only other writers care about how we use our tools. Readers care about the finished product.

Why Do I Mention This?

Most of us will face mass opposition when making the decision to write for a living. People see so much writing all around them, they take it for granted.

Many years ago, I got my start as a technical writer and copy writer/editor. I remember an acquaintance making a snarky comment about how there was no money in writing and essentially it was all foolishness (he was a stock broker). I’d finally grown enough of a spine that I stood up to him.

Me: You watch movies and television I assume.

Jerk: Of course.

Me: And when you’re learning a software program, I assume you use the Help tools.

Jerk: Yes *strange face*

Me: And magazines? Articles? The news? I assume you enjoy those too.

Jerk: *getting quiet*

Me: Then there are commercials, textbooks and the Internet. I’d wager you use Google.

Jerk: What are you saying?

Me: Last I checked, the Internet involved a lot of words. No writing, and the Internet is just a super expensive picture book. And, perhaps I’m out of line, but I’d imagine someone wrote the screenplays to the shows and movies you enjoy. I can’t see Hollywood paying a hundred million dollars for actors to just “riff.” Someone wrote the instructions to put together your computer desk and wrote those textbooks you used to train you for your career. And I’d even go so far as to say someone wrote those novels you enjoy and the magazine and news articles you consume regularly. 

Jerk: *silence*

Humans have been so spoiled with writing for so many centuries, they frequently dismiss it. Centuries ago there was far more reverence for the writer, but this was in the days when most people were illiterate. Only a handful of special people had the time, money, education to write (or read).

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

The wonderful side of public education and widespread literacy is this means more readers. Yes, those early authors were legends, but most of us would cry if we had the same book sales. There was no such thing as selling millions of books.

Of course the dark side is that humans have a tendency to take things for granted. We all do it. We assume if we paid our bill, we’ll have power. If we call 911, someone will answer. If the roads are a mess, someone will repair them. And writing? Everyone can do that.

It’s easy.

Stand Firm to the Truth

We know what we do is anything but easy, but we must be vigilant against this widespread perception or it will lead to self-doubt, giving up, being hypercritical of our own work, or seeking to please everyone with our story.

Those of you who’ve followed this blog know I have a thing for little “sayings.” Often I put them on Post-It Notes to remind me. One of my go-to phrases is, If you cannot defeat them, distract them. 

I’ve been in writing groups where the writer took every last comment/criticism as if it were gospel. When we are new, most of us lack confidence. This can lead to the Book-By-Committee. We keep changing the plot, the characters, the dialogue because one person frowned (and we didn’t realize they merely had gas).

I’m 20,000 words into Book Two of a trilogy. I sent the first book out to trusted beta readers. Every beta reader loved the book…save one. Characters all the other readers enjoyed, the one beta despised. The main group loved the description, the human flaws, the layers of complex plot. The critical beta recommended tearing down and starting over.

Now, in “The Old Days” I would have ignored what nine people said to please ONE. I’d have cried and indulged in gratuitous self-pity and believed I could never write a novel. Woe is me. I’d have trashed the book and started over.

Now? Pfft. I have rhino skin. I’m beyond the point where I need hand-holding and ego-stroking (blogging will beat that out of you).

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Are all this one beta’s comments bad or utterly misguided? Not at all. I took the detailed notes the beta gave and sent them to those who loved the book. I genuinely wanted the truth. “Hey, did you guys feel/see any of these things? Is a total rewrite something I should consider? I think many of the ‘problems’ can be fixed with a handful of sentences. But, if I need a complete tear-down, now is the time to tell me.”

I’ve written the Book-By-Committee and it is an ugly beast that pleases no one.

I recently picked up a piece of my early writing that was slayed by a well-meaning critique group. As a more mature writer and editor, I saw that they’d benevolently edited the life out of my work. They were injecting their genre, preferences, and voice onto my work. And I eagerly gobbled it down and rendered a solid piece of writing a soulless Frankenstein mess.

I used to be a pretty good novella.

I used to be a pretty good novella.

Critique and editing are critical, but we must handle with care. First, we need thick skin. Professionals should not have to be coddled and handheld. We can offer a thoughtful, articulated defense as to why we made certain decisions, but this is different from being defensive. One is the product of confidence and the other is the Goo of Doubt.

If all ten beta readers saw the same thing? Houston, we have a problem. One? I still should listen, but with care. If I don’t, I risk overworking a book trying to attain the unattainable—perfection.

I actually found it funny how this experience elucidated points I’ve been making lately. We can NEVER write a book everyone loves. We can’t. It was almost laughable looking at my edits. Lines of dialogue the others highlighted with “LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!” were the same lines the critical beta advised I delete.

But, this is why we must stand firm and remain true. I could cry and go back and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and I will still have at least one person (likely more) who doesn’t like final product. This is why we must learn to keep pressing forward and ship.

Learn the Art of Discernment

Being a professional author cannot be a democracy where everyone has an equal vote (unless you just want to go crazy). In ways, we have to be more of a benevolent dictatorship. Learn to say, “I hear your concerns and I’ll take them under advisement.” Why? Because everyone has opinions and advice, but only we will live with the consequences.

Remember, If you cannot defeat them, distract them. Trying to write the book that all demographics will love is a fruitless endeavor. It’s a distraction which will lead to defeat. Keep writing. Failure isn’t bad, it’s the tuition we pay for success. Understand that the world can believe what we do is easy, but they have a right to be wrong. We know better. Choose which voices to listen to. Part of maturity is learning the art of discernment.

Be brave enough to hand your work to someone who might hate it. The one beta who didn’t like my book? Doesn’t read this genre, hates description and has vastly different preferences than I do for pleasure reading. I knew I’d get my literary @$$ handed to me when I passed it over. BUT, this beta picked up on things the others missed 😉 .

Maybe I’m unwilling to completely burn the book to the ground and start over, but that doesn’t mean this beta didn’t point out areas that people who LOVE the genre missed. Areas that WILL make a far stronger book. Surrounding ourselves with yes-men doesn’t inspire growth. This is why rhino skin is SO valuable.

We can hand our work to someone we suspect will HATE it. But then we can sift through all the commentary and search for diamonds. If we’re too sensitive, we might miss that ONE comment that takes the book to a whole new level. Okay, this beta reader wanted to shoot 330 pages out of 331 in the face, BUT on Page 287? That’s a great point.

***And I am being hyperbolic. We should seek out those who will give our book the trial of fire, but we don’t have to hand it to people who will destroy our will to ever write again.***

Learn to select what applies and leave the rest on the table. Criticism, opinions and advice are like a giant buffet. We select what to put on our plate, then later we choose what we gobble down or throw away. This is true in writing and in life.

People might believe writers are all starving, broke deadbeats chain-smoking outside of coffee bars when they aren’t writing bad poetry. They have the right to be wrong. People can believe what we do is easy. Hey, it means we are doing our jobs well. Others will criticize, but we choose whether that drives us or distracts us.

And a BONUS FRIDAY FUNNY. Since we were talking about how humans naturally take so many things for granted, I hope you’ll take three minutes to reach out and help a person suffering with FWP:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vN2WzQzxuoA&w=560&h=315]

What are your thoughts? Do you find that public perception that what we do is “easy” infects your attitude? Maybe it makes you insecure or overly self-critical? Have you struggled with critique, found yourself trying to please everyone? Did you make a mess out of your art? Have you learned discernment? Which voices to ignore? Are you brave enough to hand your book to someone you know will hate it in hope you can harvest that one good point? Or do you want to be a world-famous writer….so long as no one knows your real name and what you look like? 😀

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World


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  1. Reblogged this on Tricia Drammeh and commented:
    Another EXCELLENT article by Kristen Lamb.

  2. Excellent post. By profession (as in how I make a lot money), I am a technical writer. So many people (developers, testers, managers) tell us that technical writing is easy BECAUSE anybody can write if they just have the time. I have been known to show them examples of what they wrote that no one can understand 🙂

    Having this experience in my background has helped me develop rhino skin. If I hear something only from one person, I’ll take it under consideration if it’s not totally off the wall. If I hear it from 3 people, there IS a problem, maybe not the problem they point out, but definitely a problem.

    1. I can always tell technical writing done by an engineer *head desk*. When I used to interview for contracts, they’d ask why they should hire me. My answer was, “I speak fluent ‘Engineer’ and can translate.” LOL

  3. My husband and I were talking about this the other day. He thought the process of self-producing an album similar to self-publishing. He cited several band who he’d found online and sent them a check for a self-produced CD, then a couple years later they’d made it big. Not all of them do, just like not all of the self-pub authors do, but I thought it an optimistic analagy.

    I also agree wholeheartedly with your approach to beta readers. If the majority point out the same things, it’s a flaw and needs to be fixed, if Goober McMonstersauce doesn’t like the world choice, that’s just him 🙂 I loved this post on so many levels. Thanks for giving me confidence that I’m on the right path!

  4. Writing’s easy? (raises hand meekly) I keep the first “novel” I wrote to remind me of how difficult it really is. When you’re 30k into your WIP and you realize that not even you would read it, you start to figure it out. It’s a craft that requires dedication to learning.

    And I loved the FWP video!

    1. I have too many chips….but not enough dip *lip quivers*

  5. So /many/ good points here. When I first joined a critique group, I hung on every word and whatever they said needed changing I changed. When I went to publish, my editors were not always amused.

  6. So wonderful when someone echoes things I’ve been saying for years 😉 The indie musician vs indie writer conundrum is spot on. Singing and writing, however, are relatively similar. I know a LOT of people who think they can sing and don’t understand why people cover their ears and run the other direction when they open their mouths. There are many writers out there like this too.

    Be aware of your surroundings. As you point out in the post, if one in ten betas has issues with something you wrote, examine it carefully, but don’t feel bad if you end up ignoring the advice. But four, five, or six in ten? You better take a long hard look at what they have to say.

    Wonderful post!

  7. Great post and so true!

    I belong to a critique group led by a professional editor and author of 25 published books. I’m fortunate to have this woman as a mentor. Early in our relationship I told her not to spare my feelings, that I was here to learn the craft and even if she felt a criticism was brutal, lay it on me. She’s done that–but always in the kindest way possible. In the two years I’ve been working with her, my writing has improved immensely and I’ve just received my first contract on my first book from the first publisher I sent it to.

    For the new members in our critique group, I ALWAYS explain my preference before the critiques start and let them know that I’ve ASKED for the brutal truth because I wanted to be a published, professional author. I listen to all of the critiques and take everything in, but the final decision is mine. I’m the only one who writes with my voice and whatever changes they suggest are run through the gauntlet before the change appears in the manuscript.

    I’m proud of the rhino skin and I highly recommend it!

  8. I think I have a baby rhino’s skin. Tough but not quite oblivious to the negative. It’s getting there though. Awesome post Kristen and just what I needed today. Can’t please everyone.
    Will reblog this post to inspire others. 🙂

  9. Reblogged this on Cynthia Stacey and commented:
    Awesome article by Author Kristen Lamb!

  10. Excellent post, Kristen! Most people I meet think what I do is easy, and tell me they have a story they’d like to write or that they’ve written. It’s amazing how their stories change when I invite them to my writing group and offer to give them helpful resources.

    Occasionally I get readers who truly appreciate, understand, and love what writers do. I live for those moments.

    Shifting through the feedback can be challenging, both from beta readers and editors, and keeping true to your voice and story.

  11. Scares me to be commenting in such distinguished company, but as a newbie to all this blog and comment stuff – http://charliesheldon2.wordpress.com/ – and a recent attendee to the AWP conference in my home town of Seattle, this anti-social dinosaur has reluctantly started to try to enter the modern age and find a writer’s community near and or far for criticism, support, and understanding. My thought on your subject is that there is a contradiction going on, here. On the one hand it seems writing has, for everyone, begun to lose rules of style and grammar, yet at the same time with the Internet it has become so easy for people to write. It used to be when I was in school, long ago, typing was a rare skill once out of school classes, yet now everyone does it to blog, post, IM. So there are millions more writers, millions more books and with self publishing more words out there than ever before. It’s now easy to write stuff, publish stuff, so of course people will think writing is easy. Of course it is not. At least for me, it is not.

    1. Everyone can write, but it soon becomes clear not everyone does it well. If we write a great blog/book, whatever, we can gain quite a loyal following because we can be the island of awesome in a sea of inadequate.

      1. Thanks for answering! I will do my best – my blog is four days old so I am just starting out, and hoping to get some good discussions going. I agree with you, totally, and I am trying to do it well, using subjects of interest to me and hopefully others, but we shall see. Let’s see I have sea stories, the Olympic Peninsula, human origins, dowsing, and, oh, that’s right. Writing….

    • sao on March 7, 2014 at 10:21 am
    • Reply

    Well, I have to admit I started out writing a Harlequin because I figured it would be easy. On the other hand, after getting rejected, I bought some books, joined a critique group and started to learn how to write. And I liked Harlequins, unlike some people who figure they can write a better one because they are smart and HQNs are dumb.

    I had a few critiques by people who didn’t understand my sense of humor and edited out any irony or sarcasm, leaving my snarky MC sounding so bland she bored me. And I had critiques that suggested that my vocabulary was too advanced — not for the critiquer, who understood every word, but for the presumed reader. (Now that’s a nice attitude to have, we writers are smart, but you readers are of limited education and intellect).

    I’ve come to the conclusion that picking over language is not all that helpful. Yes, if you struggle to understand what’s being said, you need to note it, but if you’re just refining phrasing, DON’T. What matters more is plot and characterization.

    1. Wow. I think we had the same crit group. Any level of sarcasm was a no-no and I got a note about it being “unnecessary to show off with large words”. To be clear, there was one technical term in twelve pages 🙂

      1. I once made a reference to “The Blob” and every member edited it out because “some people might not get the reference.” My attitude? Well, then they are STUPID people thus not my audience. COME ON! I am not writing for people who live under rocks.

  12. As a freelance editor I have seen plenty of clients that come to me after they have published a book (usually an e-book, but not always). Usually from the reviews, they realize that the book was not quite ready. Regrettably once the book is out there in some form fixing it and attempting to convince readers to give it a second chance is nearly impossible.

    I notice that a lot of the hopeful authors might have a favorite relative “edit” the book. They are amazed when I point out the errors. Most indie authors are not aware of the Chicago Manual of Style or any other guide book for publications.

    I spend a lot of time attempting to educate hopeful authors why professional editing is so important. My guild is a good source of professional editors. Another shocker for the hopeful author is the cost of professional editing. A guild member editor may cost more than a nonmember but your chance of getting a professional edit better.

    The best thing that an author can develop is a thick skin. Not everyone is going to love your book. Some people are going to make cruel and snide remarks about your writing and anything else they feel obliged to smear. A problem with the internet is the anonymity people believe it gives them to say things without repercussion.

    For the author, the reviews can be painful but they can also be quite frank and helpful. If you are able to get past your wounded pride, you can use even those awful reviews to inspire you to write better. I realized that I could not write dialogue, thanks to some flaming reviews, so I set out to write a story that had a lot of dialogue to improve my skill.

  13. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's New (to me) Authors Blog and commented:
    5 star advice from an author who has been there, wrote the story, got the tee shirt and been the main character in the video – read, learn and be courageous 🙂

  14. You are amazing, I read devour blog as I do a great book. You truly do keep me inspired. In a world of self told time limits, and no alarm clocks, you keep me feeling motivated and fresh.
    Thank you Kristen!

  15. I learned this lesson the VERY hard way. I graduated from college at the age of 19, over 30 years ago, with a newly-minted Creative Writing degree, and the first thing I did was send off a short story to an anthology series edited by an author I absolutely idolized. (I stopped short of the little shrine in the bedroom with a candle and flowers thing, but only just.) She sent it back with a rejection letter that was absolutely scathing. Among her other comments was the little gem that she couldn’t for the life of her understand why someone who wrote as badly as I did even wanted to think of herself as a writer. And at 19, I not only lacked rhino skin, I lacked any skin whatsoever. I limped away from my dream, and didn’t pick it up again until three years ago. Now, four novels and a novella to the good, I can thumb my nose at my long-ago nemesis’ ghost. But I can’t help but wonder, sometimes, what life would have been like if I’d been capable of picking myself up, dusting myself off, and moving on…

    1. WOW. OUCH. What a jerk. I have been called The Death Star. But people who get my edits, I offer them a setting: STUN, BLAST or KILL. If they are new and need a bit more coddling, I do that, though I still am a tough cookie. But if they are ready to cut through the glitter and set that bad-boy on KILL? Bring it! But, you’ve lived a lot of life in between so you get Experience Points that will make your writing all the richer ((HUGS)) and KUDOS for returning to your dream.

    2. Rory, I’m wondering your thoughts on whether she sent you the scathing letter to encourage you to not give up and to develop the elephant’s or rhino’s skin (kind of a reverse-psychology, tough-love kind of thing, I guess). Even if she didn’t and was genuinely mean–I hate to hear that; as a former little literary journal editor, I know I received some odd submissions, sometimes in crayon even, but I’m not the kind of person who’d dream of cutting down another human being like you’ve described here if they are a stranger and not expecting such raw, unvarnished advice, but that’s my 2 cents’ worth and my style–I’m so glad to hear you’ve persevered and picked up writing again. As the old saw goes, the cream rises to the top, doesn’t it?! For myself, I try my best to have no regrets about the time I spent not doing something that I now do (such as writing). Anyway, best wishes to you and your writing (said another way, writing is an ultramarathon, not a 100-meter dash)!

      1. Anything’s possible, I suppose, and even now I’d like to give someone I admired so much the benefit of the doubt! — but the personal tone of the letter makes me doubt that’s how it was meant. Regardless, it’s to my advantage now — I have a 30-year-deep well to draw from when I write! (And to be honest, I probably didn’t have nearly as much to say at 19 as I thought I did! 😉 )

    • Aften on March 7, 2014 at 10:37 am
    • Reply

    I am happy to report as a newbie I have sought editing guides, structure knowledge and HIRED AN EDITOR! You want to know why? Because I read your blog. You give excellent advice and guidance on how to be better at what I love. I’m not one of those mind boggling talents that changes the world one well structured and insightful sentence at a time. I love writing- and will edit whether I like it or not. As always: guide on, Wise Kristen, guide on…

  16. Love, love, LOVE this blog! I’ve been seduced into creating a Frankenstein mess, so I totally relate to your message. FYI: The writer in me read the subject of the video as “First WORD Problems”! LOL 😀

    • Rebecca Douglass on March 7, 2014 at 10:59 am
    • Reply

    Saw this from Chris the Story-Reading Ape’s reblog. You’ve got a lot in this post! I’ve long regretted the “professionalization” of music (so that ordinary mortals are afraid to open their mouths and sing, or pick up an instrument and play, because they aren’t “good enough.”). So it feels a little weird to be worrying about the “deprofessionalization” of writing! But the thing is, when you join in a group singing or playing at whatever your level, you aren’t expecting people to come and pay and listen. But when we write, most of us do want a paying audience. That’s the time to get professional! As long as I was writing stories for myself and no one else, I didn’t have to edit. Now? Beta readers and editors and revision after revision, until I’ve got a tight plot and removed all those excess words!

    Agree about the writer blogs, too. I am a writer, so I like a good writer blog! But I am writing my blog for (in the best of all possible worlds) my readers, and I’m trying to make it something that’s interesting for readers who aren’t writers. Sometimes that does mean talking about the writing process–we all like to get a little inside info on things we don’t ourselves do. But mostly I write reviews and flash fiction and put up a few pictures 🙂

    Sorry–I think I just wrote a blog post all over your comments!

    Rebecca at The Ninja Librarian

    1. Don’t be sorry. I work my tail off to get thoughtful comments like this. Since I blog for free the least I can do is get “compensated” with your thoughts 😀 .

    2. There are free places people can read original fiction. Fictionpress, for instance. I have flash fiction, short stories and even af 50.000 words story there. But it’s fictionpress. Everybody KNOWS it’s not published-book-quality.
      The truth of the matter also is that it’s easier to listen to music than to read a book. It doesn’t take long to figure out whether you like a piece of music while we’re often told to “wait 20 pages” before the book becomes good.
      20 pages?! It should grab my attention from first phrase!

  17. THIS. Sooooo THIS.

    I have had reader reviews, about the SAME book, complain it was too long/too short, too much sex/not enough sex, sex started too soon/sex started too late.


    Fortunately, that was one of my earliest books, so I learned that lesson early on that I need to take all comments, even from my editors (who are also human) with a grain of salt. I’ve learned that when I go with my gut (honestly, and not out of ego) it’s usually right, positively or critically. If I read an editor’s comments and something in my stomach says, “Yeah, that’s spot-on,” I know to change it. If I read a comment and my initial reaction is, “WTF?” then I stop, go back, and try to look at that same passage again as someone NOT invested in the writing. If I then get a, “Yeah, I can see where I need to change that,” reaction, I revise. If it’s a “human error” where the editor might have missed something earlier (again, editors ARE human), I either leave it, or clarify the earlier section to strengthen it, if I feel the error was on my end in the writing.

    But I never take it personally. This is art, but it’s a business. I write for my niche, not for every reader out there. I know going into this that every reader isn’t going to like my books, and that’s okay, because there are lots of books out there I don’t like, either.

    1. Yeah, the critical beta was afraid I’d alienate certain readers. Well, I am ALWAYS going to alienate certain readers. If I use profanity or don’t use it. Love scenes or no love scenes. Oh, my protagonist can’t have a gun, because the anti-gun people will be offended. Not hopping on that crazy train. Thanks.

    • gerrymccullough on March 7, 2014 at 11:12 am
    • Reply

    I enjoyed this blog a lot, Kristen. You say a lot of wise things. I used the Rhino skin idea two years ago in a guest post on Mark Williams’s blog – it’s so true. It’s important to learn not to listen humbly to everyone. But, hey, please don’t draw my name out of your hat – I really don’t want the unvarnished truth about my writing from anyone, even you – I’ve grown a thick skin, but not that thick! I don’t want to cry myself to sleep any more nights – I’ve had enough of that! I’ve had some lovely comments about Belfast Girls and my other five books, and that keeps me going. I write what I enjoy writing these days – that makes it a pleasure, and something I can keep doing, instead of giving up!

  18. All I can say is … thank you so very much. This came at just the right time for me. You’ve reaffirmed the power of words. And made a difference, for me.

  19. I like that you send your manuscripts to beta readers who might “hate” the story, don’t care for the genre or may offer a harsh critique. It is a testament to writers who WANT to produce the best possible work, to open themselves up (and their “baby,” i.e., book, novella, etc.) and allow other people to judge it. Thick skin, indeed!

    All my favorite authors, indie and traditional, have one thing in common: they WANT to hear CONSTRUCTIVE comments about their work. This Summer, I sent an author a personal email letting her know I found numerous errors in her book. One of the characters was supposed to be a native Spanish speaker and the dialogue was wrong – from incorrect usage, to unknown idioms, to incomprehensible statements. I told the author I wanted to provide an honest review, but if the errors were not corrected, she would be be raked over the coals by readers for poor editing.

    Imagine my surprise when she pulled the book off Amazon, emailed me back with her thanks, sent me an Amazon credit for the book and asked if I would go through the manuscript with a critical eye. You see, I was not the only reader who had noticed the issues, but I was one of the only ones who brought them to her attention. She was working with another editor on corrections and wanted another beta reader. The final product was so much better and I was thrilled that she cared more about the final product, than possible hurt feelings and/or ego.

    1. Bravo for you! It’s a win-win situation when author and reader both want the same goal: a well-written book.

    2. WOW. AWESOME! That is a true artist professional. I seek out people who hate my genre to torture them. KIDDING! No, I think if we only give the work to people who love that genre, they give a lot more grace and might not SEE certain things. If I can convert someone who doesn’t like my genre to like my book? SCORE. But even if I don’t, they are already set up to be hyper-critical, so one can glean some of the most FANTASTIC feedback…but you gotta have armor-plated skin. You also have to take the ego out and sort what you agree with from the WTH? I’m not changing that!

  20. If people looked at musicians like they look at writers they’d expect them all to be the Beatles and would refuse to give anyone else respect. Instead, Joe and Fred down the street can play the local place on the weekends and everyone goes to enjoy their music. At the same time, those same people who only respect the top authors strangely think, as you say, that anyone can write a novel. I often get the comment, “Oh, you’re a writer. Yeah, I was going to write a novel, but I haven’t had the time.” Gee, thanks.

    Indie publishing, though, may ultimately change this equation. Better tools will surface for weeding out the wanna-be writers and the overall playing field will level. More niche writers and locals will be able to make a living as a writer and people’s perceptions will change. It’s going to take awhile, but it’s already happening. And you’re a big part of making it happen. Thank you.

    1. I happen to live in a culture capital of Europe and there’s a lot of poetry slam. It’s cool to be able to go there and basically “jam” words. And people passing by stop to listen, intrigued.
      I think we need to embrace small writer-cafés again. They used to be big.

      1. Yes, great point…and great news. That’s what I’m talking about: bringing it down to the more immediate level and out of the mass media’s obsession with the big names. We must not allow grassroots art to wither.

        1. It also encourages more “artsy” writing which can be fun to play with now and then. Sometimes we get so caught up in plot that we can get TOO rigid, I think. At least that has happened for me – sometimes I think my style is bland. Poetry Slam helps loosen it up.

          1. I’ve had the same issue and that’s why I write poetry. At one point my writing was becoming stilted and generic.

          2. I really can’t write poetry, though. What I do instead is sort of rambling little stories with a rhythm in them.
            It’s interesting how important rhythm is to writing!

          3. Oh, I’m no great poet. I do it so as to doodle in the more artistic side of writing. Oh, such a smile I have seeing your last comment (after a long night of sleep—finally). Rhythm is too often ignored. That’s why it’s essential to read our work aloud. It’s amazing how many refuse to do so even when they’re alone. When doing so it’s important to catch the errors, but it’s also important to hear the writing rhythm as if it were a song.

          4. Well, we can’t be good at all our hobbies. It’s good to do some things merely for the joy and not because we expect ourselves to be good at it x) Poetry I find is a particular form of writing that is often meant to be “for us”

          5. Agreed. I don’t post more poems than I post. Those “other” hobbies help shape us into the unique writer we become. Whether we’re good at them or not they’re important. 🙂

          6. Sometimes failing at one thing is what can make us good at other stuff xD Don’t make me find an example but surely there is one!

          7. I’ve had many occupations that I disliked and left so I could be viewed as a failure in those occupations, BUT I walked away with knowledge that is serving me well now. Everything is valuable. 🙂

  21. There are so many gems in your post. The most important one? You cannot please every reader (even Rowling has her critics). I enjoyed reading what you wrote and look forward to reading more.

  22. There are some real pearls of wisdom in here. I think it boils down to an author figuring out what his or her goals are. If all you care about is making money, you will need to cater to some group and mold what you do around their tastes. I’ve got pretty thick skin. I realize not everyone is going to like what I do, so I don’t try to please them. I’m in this to tell my story. Sure I would like someone to listen and to see a direct deposit from Amazon that was more than the pitiful interest on the account. In time – marathon not sprint.

    1. And we are writing for the reader, not just to please ourselves. The key is learning we cannot write for EVERY reader. We must write for OUR readers.

      1. Ah, a very fine and true distinction!

  23. Great post as usual. I have 20 beta readers, half published authors, half readers, and one engineer who calls himself Mr. Monk. The authors provide craft advice, the readers have different insight, and Mr. Monk discovers obscure details that no one else would notice, but why not fix it before the book is released. Mr. Monk also has a thousand plots swirling in his brain, which he loves to share. I’ve learned to analyze his comments but respectfully decline changing my plot for one of his!

  24. Great post! Critical beta-readers are so valuable, especially the ones whose opinion you trust. I am always so appreciative of their honesty.

  25. Hi Kristen; As always, your posts are awesome. People act like they think they can write. But…did they…ever? How did those English Comp weekly writing assignments work for them? Were those term papers in…say…History…such a snap? Maybe, not so much.

    And then there were those people who could sit down in the period before and dash out a weekly something and turn it in and get a B on it. And, we waited until the night before to write the term paper and got an A and didn’t even copy / paste “much” off the net. I guess those are the ones, right?


    1. Well, I fit into the second group and still wrote the Novel That’s Name Not Be Spoken. So, even for the geeks, fiction is TOUGH. BLOODY. BRUTAL. HUMBLING.

  26. Reblogged this on The World of The Teigr Princess and commented:
    My other half told me to get a real job when I announced I was going to write for a living… *snorts*… pot calling the kettle black, methinks – he’s an Illustrator / struggling Artist!

  27. FWP Kit- ROFLMAO! Oh my gosh that was SO funny Kristen!!!!!!

  28. Great thoughts. I have had some of the same experiences with beta readers. One will love what another will hate. I have also taken the comments from one beta and given them to another beta reader, asking “does any of this resonate with you?”

    Negative comments can be more helpful than positive comments, if you are willing to take the time to examine them, re-read your writing, and shore up any issues. But some of them you will find are just differences in personal preferences. Sometimes the reader has missed the whole point of the book. Sometimes what they perceive as a weakness was an intentional device (improper grammar in a young child’s narrative, fragmentation in a mentally ill person’s POV, particular jargon or slang, etc.) You have to have that rhino skin and be willing to ignore what does not resonate.

    I had one recent beta reader suggest that maybe I should foreshadow/plant images of a particular plot twist, with a suggestion of what that might look like. Her particular suggestion didn’t work (as my two year old toddler could not read…) and when I did another rework of the novel, I found half a dozen places where I had foreshadowed that image. She just missed them or didn’t realize their significance.

    Sometimes you’ll get what you perceive as all negative feedback, but later in the conversation, you get an enthusiastic “I’ll definitely post a good review when it’s published!” Some people just tend to tell you what is wrong and not what is right. I tend to fall into that trap myself, and had one author I was reading for come back and ask me “I’m confused – did you like the story or not?” It’s easy to be helpful and point out everything that is wrong, assuming that the author will understand that everything else was great. But of course the author may assume you hated it!

  29. Yes, this is true.
    I am part of a book group (I haven’t told them I have published novels, I don’t want to stand out, or have them think I’m showing off). Every week they lay into the work of some poor author, but last week, one said ‘I tried to write a novel once, I never got past page 3.’ Another said ‘I have a vague list of ideas I’d like to put into a novel but I know I’ll never get round to it.’
    I just smiled and nodded.

  30. “Here’s a bridge. Now get over it.”

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Thank you. I’m still laughing.

    1. “Here’s a straw. Now suck it up.” I need about a hundred of those kits, please. One for myself of course 😀

  31. The ending for that video is how I feel about my writing some days. LOL Kristen, did you hit your delete key when they mentioned skinny jeans? 😉 Good post!

  32. I handed my first novel to 2 friends on Monday to look over, and just sent it off to 3 more people today. So far the first 2 love it but they are noticing different things. One didn’t get a scene while the other got it right away. One thought one scene happened a little too early but the other thought it was dead on.
    For me what helped the most was the scenes i had doubts about, they felt the same so i’m glad we are all working together to take it from a B+ to an A+. That’s all i could hope for. No one is being mean though and one woman, that’s an avid reader, keep saying to me “I really don’t know how you do it. It seems so overwhelming, I could never learn and do all this.”

  33. Yes, that last thing you said. I’m finally coming to the realization that if I want people to read what I write, hiding isn’t going to work. I have the introvert writer’s dilemma. And since I’m a newbie (relatively), I have not grown rhino skin. I’m still pink and tender like a baby’s butt.

  34. “Be an island of awesome in a sea of inadequate.” Love it. Working toward that end. Failing miserably most days, but still I try. You are what you preach, Kristen, thank you for that.

    I’m more sea slug, less rhino with regard to my writing right now, but I’ve been away from it and critiques for quite some time, so as I dive back in I’ll be working on generating that leathery hide.

    You bring up a good point (well, crikey, you bring up a million, but I don’t have all day and neither do you, and you’ve already mentioned them up there so need to reiterate here 😉 ) about giving your work to someone who will be reading out of genre, or someone who (may or may not) probably won’t like it for whatever reason.

    At first, my gut was saying, “but but but Kristen, of course they were going to tell you to burn it and write something they want to read because it’s not their genre” but then you mentioned that ONE THING, that one little jewel that everyone else missed, but this person did not, possibly because he/she was waiting anxiously for spontaneous combustion, but it makes sense. Wow! That was a ridiculously long sentence and I’m not even going to fix it. 😉

    If you know, going in, that what you’re giving a beta reader is not in their wheelhouse, (ie. they won’t even pretend to like it and don’t have to) then you can EXPECT that, which is far easier emotionally and skin-wise than being surprised by a brutal review. It sets you up to be objective and to search for that vital piece of pertinent advice or information that maybe everyone else missed because they were too busy drooling over how awesome your (my, our) work is.

    Great point and well taken. Thanks, as always, for your clever brain and helping us “think different.”

    1. Actually an older, wiser writer pointed that out to me when I was first in a critique group. We had members who felt we needed to split off by genre and this old doctor mentioned that point. That so long as the group was a wide mix of genres, we’d get a vibrant hybrid of feedback. That actually people who HATED our genre might even have better suggestions and when they point out something they like? They really LIKE it…because they are totally waiting to smoke our @$$.

      1. Good stuff. 🙂

  35. Why must writers be the Rodney Dangerfield of the art world? Too funny. Too true. So much packed into this post, it’s already due for a re-read (which beats a re-write). Cheers and many thanks for this.

  36. Having been raked by Kristen’s critique on two separate occassions, I will agree that she’s tough to please. She is not, however, cruel. I’m not at all surprised she sent her novel to someone she expected to hate it.
    I’m almost to the beta reader stage for my first novel, and I hope I’ve got a diverse enough group that I will hear about the real flaws in my story and writing. Is it scary? Yes. Do I expect to cry if one or more of them hate it? No doubt. Will I take every suggestion to heart? Probably not.
    I’m still learning to have rhino skin, but I am secure enough in my own creative voice to keep from writing a novel by committee. I think.

    1. Hey, you made it past me. That’s good for some toughening up 😀

    • Laurie A Will on March 7, 2014 at 3:08 pm
    • Reply

    Interesting post. People are always concerned about what would happen if lost all our technology, lol! Well what good would technology do for us without words and someone to string them together? I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but I think you’re right. People do think writing is easy or at the least severely underestimate the work that goes into it. I notice when someone asks me about my writing and they find out how long it can take, they lose interest. More evidence of a society overloaded with technology. As far as accepting critiques. I’ve come along way. Years ago my first response always was they’re wrong. Then I stopped forming an opinion on the critique until I could think about it for a few days. Now, I can usually tell when I read it whether it is of help or not. But, still I still think about it for a few days. Because it’s like you said, if I can sift through a critique and find just one thing to make my story better, it’s worth it.

  37. Thank you! Someone had to say it! I’ve been struggling to concoct a satisfying combination of words beyond a title & a couple of partial sentences. Okay, I am a huge procrastinator as well… (:

    <3 Carsla
    Founder & CEO of Connect-the-Cloths
    A stylist, foodie, & writer's blog in development.

  38. I am just starting out on my journey, after allowing self doubt and the attitudes of others turn me away from writing for a very long time. One of my first steps were to find writing/critiquing groups to join, looking for community, inspiration, guidance, and the occasional kick in the butt when I needed it. A lot of the groups I found I walked or ran away from quickly because many were filled with people not looking to critique or help, but instead, to tear down and annihilate. I love your blog, so often the things you write about are things I am tossing around in my mind at that very moment. So glad I found you.

  39. I have the opposite problem–my beta readers, when they do give me feedback, give me old, “Yeah, it was good. Wouldn’t change a thing.” That’s when I can get them to read it in the first place…
    I recently did a chapter swap with an acquaintance of mine–I read and thoroughly annotated her first chapter within seven days. Emailed her the feedback and found out she hadn’t even picked mine up. I sent a new version, since I’d revised it. That was three weeks ago and I haven’t heard anything.
    I had gave her positive and negative feedback, and I don’t FEEL like I was too negative, but I of course had to point out a few flaws that made the chapter a little dry.
    I phrased it nicely but I can’t help but feel she was upset. I wish more writers would grow a thick skin.

    1. Writer Up.

  40. Thank you.

  41. This reminded me of someone I knew who would say things like. “I’ve written things!” I felt like saying, “Like what? Your grocery list?” Some people think anybody can be a writer; they just don’t get it. Thanks for your great tips.

  42. hahahaha you struck many chords today – especially since I got home at half 11 last night only to find that I had brought all the *cereal* home from my shop, but had left the *milk*!!!!!! I had cereal, but no fricking milk!!!!!!!! Yes, I did a little ‘justlostmyshit’ dance :p I could have used a straw.

    Also, my MS is out with 11 betas and the feedback is beginning… so far someone’s suggested cutting out a main character and 2 others have said he’s their favourite… What more proof that I need to tread carefully. Want to heed feedback and consider changes – but can obviously not heed both sides!!! Exciting times 😀 who knows what else will come in, I love it! You can feel something improve under your fingers, and where you don’t change something, you’ve reasoned why with yourself! I’ve also booked Marcy Kennedy in for a developmental edit once I’ve beta’d the book so I’m happyappyappy dancing… Enjoy this setting oneself up to succeed business – which is why I always read your blog!!!

  43. Thank you for posting these amazing, well-put thoughts, Kristen. I feel like I was just validated as a struggling writer. I will be posting a link back to your blog on my blog at jenniferthompsonbooks.blogspot.com because I believe many need to hear what you have to say. One of my favorites: ” Failure isn’t bad, it’s the tuition we pay for success.” Love it!!

  44. Hi Kristen!
    I’ve finally taken your advice to get rid of the pseudonym and stride out under my own name – as well as a few other changes brought about by reading Rise of the Machines.
    Writering up 🙂
    Thanks for all the good advice!
    Deborah Makarios (formerly known as Sinistra Inksteyne)

    1. Great to meet you Deborah! Pretty name, btw. Definitely memorable. Search engines will LOVE you.

      1. Thanks! That’s half of why I changed my name when I got married – my maiden name was a) fairly common and b) frequently misspelled. At least now people ask 🙂

  45. I believe it was Louis Sachar who described his writing process as locking himself up with his WIP and not discussing it with anyone until it’s done. Kind of a contrast to the advice I’ve heard that says every chapter should be scrutinized by a writing group (i.e. Book-by-Committee).

    1. Book-by-Committee is a terrible way to go about writing a book because you can’t please everybody.

      Best to take Louis Sachar’s advice. I’ve never read any of his books (that I can remember, anyway), but he sounds like a wise man.


  46. A great post, and the first of yours I’ve read. I’m always glad to find another writing blog to follow.
    I’ve had beta readers give me perfectly opposite advice before, especially about which characters they liked. I’ve had others suggest things that would cause me as a reader to throw a book across the room. And yet, one of the most useful critiques I’ve had was from someone who completely failed to get the point of my book. Though I had to ignore most of her advice, she still pinpointed a vital problem that my other readers had ignored. You never know who will have something useful to say.

  47. Reblogged this on dan-harris.net and commented:
    More sage writerly wisdom from Ms. Lamb.

  48. Funny was just thinking about all this today then the universe put this in my path! It’s true can’t please everyone.

  49. Reblogged this on raven newcastle.

    • Rebecca Douglass on March 7, 2014 at 10:02 pm
    • Reply

    @JMvarnerbooks– I never could see getting feedback on each chapter, or even on the first draft. Nothing I write is worth reading until 2or 3 drafts have gone by. THEN I can ask someone to read it. Before that, it would be cruel,to them and me (since they would be sure to tell me not to quit my day job).

  50. Kristen, I like your approach to social media. I started my website over a year ago and within six months I lost my appetite for it.
    I read the sample introduction to your latest book and it spoke to me. That’s how authors, and everyone frankly, should approach social media.
    Once I finish your book I plan to revamp my website and approach to the social media universe.

  51. Reblogged this on Radhika Meganathan and commented:
    Kristen Lamb talks about how “easy” writing is! I admit, I have had my share of the “you mean you are a writer and people actually pay for it?” baffled questions, and some have outright asked me to reveal them the secret of writing a book, because if I can do it, so can they.
    While it IS true, in a philosophical and “my life flashed before my eyes” kind of angle, each one of us do have a story inside us, the question is – do you have what it takes to be a writer? Anybody can write. But will they? Will they make writing a Top 3 priority in their life, spend time and money and sweat creating good literature, and gladly put themselves out there, for rejections and criticisms from professionals, editors and audience? Writing IS easy, I am glad to confess. It’s the part after you type THE END that is the toughest 🙂

  52. Reblogged this on winterbayne and commented:
    Normally, I would link to this, but it deserves a reblog.

  53. Reading your blog and the comments people have posted convinced me I need to read your book. Killer book cover. btw! I’m a sci fi fan. Thank you commenters!

    1. Thanks. I had few goals in life. I wanted to be a cyborg and yes that is me on the cover—though you get to guess which half….AND that joke NEVER gets old.

  54. I wrote corporate puff professionally and it was amazing how many clients paid one agency I subbed with for my work and then resented it, or thought they could do better (until they tried).

    I think one of the problems with book writing is that while it takes skill and time to learn to do it properly but if someone asked me how I make my characters believable I probably wouldn’t be able to tell them. Learning to write properly is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do but if anyone asked me how I do it I doubt I’d be able to tell them.



  55. Reblogged this on Alison's Writing Alive at Last and commented:
    An excellent post on how to handle criticism (with a grain of salt) and learn to make the right choices.

    1. Just wanted to answer, not just reblog.
      I do feel that public perception can affect us, but once you talk to other writers, you just KNOW it’s not easy, so it helps to have that support.

      I used to be a lot more insecure and highly self-critical of anything I did, but over the last few years I’ve grown a rhino skin, as you put it, and little by little I’m realizing what part of my writing has my *voice* that some people will always try to edit out. It’s a “try and see” kind of approach for me, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop listening to all the voices. It just takes time and practice to learn which ones to tune out.

      I would be brave enough to hand my book (or work in progress) to someone who could rip it apart, but they were reluctant because they didn’t want to use their normal “roughness” on my writing (and/or me).

      As for being a world-famous writer, I’m still debating the whole “pen name” issue, but probably won’t seriously commit until I have a finished first draft. 😉

  56. First I have to say that I’ve been strangely lucky when it comes to the attitudes I’ve come across concerning writers. While I do find myself forcing a smile back at the occasional person who has “an awesome idea for a book and I just have to find the time to start writing it”, most of the people I’ve met in my life thus far have considered writing to be an extremely difficult profession. They’ve seen how much time I spend writing and shudder, and they read things that I’ve written and readily admit that they could never do that. It’s EXTRAORDINARILY refreshing.

    That said, on the other side of things I’ve had my fair share of issues with beta readers and critique groups. I spent a bit of time on a particular website for people who critique each others’ work and I ended up having to leave because I was grinding my teeth into oblivion. While some people had excellent points and really helped me improve my work, there were tons of other people who were mean just for the sake of being mean, or who (as you mentioned above) tore the everliving hell out of my work because it happened to be in a genre they didn’t like, or a perspective they weren’t use to, or what-have-you.

    It took me a while to realize it, but I think that one of the most important things a writer can learn is to discern the difference between helpful or truthful comments, and the ones that are written by people who just want to express bad attitudes or make you upset.

    1. Truth can hurt like hell. “Help” can be unicorn farts and not good for much of anything. I think we need to Writer Up and realize it’s a business. If we want our hands held, go visit Mom. We have to separate truth from sheer pettiness, enmity or even ignorance. People have the right to be wrong. Some people are just jerks. But they are great training for the public jerks we WILL get in the reviews when we publish. On Goodreads, I have one-star reviews from people hiding behind a moniker with a locked down profile. I KNOW they didn’t even pick up my book. They gave it one star for the sheer sake of being petty and mean. Had I not been trained in critique groups, I might have actually cared.

      1. I couldn’t agree more. As writers we have to learn how to have thick skin and accept that what people say about our work can help us to produce BETTER work, but we also have to be aware that sometimes people say mean things for no reason, or because their personal opinions override their ability to be unbiased.

  57. I come to think of all the indie games, too. Many awesome games have only become possible in the new paradigm. World of Goo!!!

    • Patty H. on March 8, 2014 at 9:51 am
    • Reply

    As usual Kristen, your post speaks to me. I’ve entered my current novel in several contests in the last few months. My goal was to get feedback from someone other than my critique group–they are great but I wanted fresh eyes. The scoresheets have been really helpful and one positive I’ve heard many times is that my premise is ‘fun’ or ‘unique’. However, yesterday I read a score sheet that said my premise was ‘laughable’ (not in a good way). One of this judge’s many comments was “I’d better give the heroine a different job because she had ‘nothing’ to help the hero.” Just fyi, my heroine has a skilled trades job that is the keystone to the whole plot and my character’s arc. The comment sounded elitist to me. Maybe she just isn’t my audience.

    1. Some judges are odd ducks. I once entered a short story in the category of Speculative Fiction. The judge RAZED me and said, “This story sounds like something we’d see on X-Files.” Ok, isn’t that….good?

  58. I know this is probably way off the mark but I have a question, well… a few questions.
    I’m doing my first draft right now. This is my first attempt at a novel. The last thing published other than blog posts for me was back in the 1990s. I have a writing buddy via the Internet. I’m seriously thinking about giving her a slice of what I’ve written so far to critique. Would I be shooting myself in the foot if I did this? Should I wait until the last draft instead? Should I wait until I have my story edited?

    1. Press to finish. Never edit early. You can root out the best stuff. Also, pages out of context are really hard to edit. Is it a scene? A sequel? My recommendation is table it until you can revise it no more then back away.

  59. I am an author and a part-time practicing doctor (see what I did there? I used to say I’m a doctor and part-time writer!). The differences between those two careers couldn’t be greater. I have been told so many times “But how can you compare medicine to writing? Medicine is a vocation where you can do so much good! You’re a great doctor! We can’t afford to lose someone like you!” And more comments like that, along the lines that medicine is a “serious” job, while writing is a self-indulgent hobby that I can just do, you know, whenever.

    The perception that by committing to writing, I’m taking the “easy” option as compared to medicine, is sometimes in the air, unspoken but readable on faces. And yes, the comments of “If you can write a book, then I should be able to write one too” abound.

    There are days when I feel guilty for chasing this dream. I feel I’m too privileged, that I’m getting to have my cake and eat it. But then I look at what I’ve had to do to get to where I am today and I think, ‘Hell no. This is not freakin’ easy! Not everyone can do this!”

    What we do ISN’T easy. What we do IS important. The written word has shaped human civilizations, societies, and cultures for millennia and will continue to do so in the future.

    Without the written word, the lights of the world would go out. No newspapers, no books, no films, no TV, no plays, no education. People would go eat, sleep, and work.

    We might as well go back to being monkeys.

    • Jorgia Jacobs on March 8, 2014 at 2:37 pm
    • Reply

    I’m a new reader but wanted to say thanks for the great advice about taking criticism! I am not a writer (I’m an enthusiastic reader who, even before reading your post, appreciates great writing) but I am a hobby seamstress/crafter in the throes of turning my passion into a business. I appreciate your discerning between constructive criticism, specific product (or in your case, genre) dis-interest, and just plain ol’ gas 🙂 Thanks for your time & great words! -jor.

  60. Ugh. If I have one more of my friends tell me ‘Oh yeah, I thought about writing a book one day.’ I might just go hide in a hole and never come out.
    For the first time I have words to describe why people seem to think it’s so simple and it makes me feel good to have that. But rubbish at the same time.

    No. Writing isn’t easy. It isn’t effortless and nobody should assume that.

    I don’t think people realise how insulting and damning it is when they say such flippant things to a writer. They think they’re being supporting and understanding. I wish we could do more to show the world what it really takes to do what we do and do it well.

  61. “Ah, but the general public assumption is that the only thing standing between them and being J.K. Rowling is merely sitting down and finishing the story. Many believe that, because they’re literate and have command of their native language that they can do what we do.”

    Sigh. Okay, writers. We’re all friends here. Time to fess up: who wrote the 80’s movie training montage about writing and convinced everyone that they, too, could be the next Steven King with a few jogs up the library steps and some inspirational music?


    1. “I need a montage, A MONTAGE!” *channels “Team America”*

  62. Kristen — another amazingly helpful post — thank you! I am re-blogging it…you make good points — one being that while most of us can write, most of us humans can’t play an instrument or sing… and so the brilliant author gets lost in the ocean of mediocrity.

  63. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    Greetings Fabulous Folk! I am re-blogging Kristen’s post on aspects of the writing life so you can set those wheels in your own bright heads turning….I took 20 years to complete my first novel, Whip of the Wild God — in actual time, perhaps 4 years — it also went through about 7 incarnations — and I can honestly say from personal experience that writing is rewriting — i can spend hours polishing a single paragraph — not at one stretch, but over the span of writing the book — or finding the perfect word to describe what i want to convey…everyone wants to be a writer today, but few know how difficult it is to stay the course…writing takes more than talent — it takes perseverance, meticulous attention to theme, character, dialogue, plot — most of all, when it comes to a novel, it takes being so passionately in love with your subject/s etcetera that you are willing to keep going and going…until you have a piece of art that truly works…if you are a serious writer, you KNOW what I mean….

  64. My takeaway: grow a thick skin. Thank you!

  65. Kristen, this is my favorite of you posts, so far anyway. Truth laced with humor and sarcasm. Yum, my favorite flavor 🙂

    Yes, everybody believes they can write. Sometimes they actually can, LOL. What people in general, and beginning writers, don’t get is the work that goes into writing a piece of anything. I’m just SOOOOO happy there wasn’t an easy way to self-publish when I wrote my first novel (may it stay forever hidden under the bed!). I would so hate to have that piece of $h*t out there in the world with my name on it. I shudder to think.

    Love your blog, and your books. Keep up the good work!

  66. There’s the other problem. People write email, tweets, and text messages all the time. Therefore, they do not the magic involved.

  67. Reblogged this on ladim1 and commented:
    This article had me floored, because it had a lot of truth behind it!

  68. This article has me floored, because everything I have read today has this theme about writing in it and how to be confident. So much truth and beauty about the struggles and triumphs. Lovely read. Thanks for sharing!

  69. Thank you for this advice! As I step out into the world of freelancing I’m grateful for you!

  70. “We keep changing the plot, the characters, the dialogue because one person frowned (and we didn’t realize they merely had gas)”

    This (and the paragraph it is in) is something I need to remember and take on board. I still remember a comment from my sister about my writing from about 15 years ago. I have jellyfish skin, but with reading articles like this, it is slowly thickening up. 🙂

  71. About a year ago I made the mistake of letting a couple beta readers read an unfinished WIP. Their comments were well-meaning, but they disturbed me and made me second-guess myself to the point that I made no more meaningful progress on the novel for months. The first draft is finished now and has been self-edited several times, and, in all truth, I did heed what the beta readers said. However, I think I would have been better served to wait until the first draft was complete before allowing anyone to read it.

  72. Great article! I have often wondered about where the mystique about being an author came from and I think you nailed it with the idea that writing used to be a highly prized skill.

    Maybe it’s the city I live in, but people are always impressed when I say I write. When I tell them wrote a whole book they congratulate me. Even if they don’t realize how much work (and money) editing and the rewriting that follows is, they do recognize to write something worth reading is not something they can do or are willing to do.

    Again, thanks for sharing. Cheers.

  73. Oh so true Kristen! Thank you for composing your words to remind all of us writers why we write and to be perhaps be just a little thick skinned. I like your comment above about technical writing and engineers. I was a technical copy editor for 15 years reviewing instruction manuals written by engineers. Yes, you must be a good translator for that kind of job.

    I linked your blog from mine http://www.patricktimm.com/my-musings/

    and also on my author Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Patrick-Timm/293806860718033

    I hope my Indie author friends read this!

  74. I read this on a day when I was feeling like a caveman. I need to emerge from it tomorrow. Anyway, just wanted to say how much I appreciate this. I’m in a critique group that is all online, but we seem to be connecting very well. It’s challenging because we do have different genres but that’s a good thing too. I’ve seen it.

    I just finished my first ever round of ‘query flurry’, and it was unsuccessful but it was a good thing for me to see that I have developed thick skin about my writing, and yet, I still remain open to suggestions. I didn’t send out a single query until I was sure I could handle the rejection. Yeah, it stings. And yeah, I’m okay.

    Tomorrow, I’ll sit in my office and work on it all some more. Thanks for the blog post. It was the bit of encouragement I needed tonight.


  75. You are MOST interesting and the FWP video made me laugh so much. I can see from the amount and detailed comments that this is what people need badly. Something for me to read in there too.

  76. Kristen — I was also sent the Indie Musician v.s. Writer post, and I think the big difference is that you can enjoy music without engaging your mind, or having to commit lots of time. Everybody is so bombarded by competing demands for their attention. In order to attract and hold it, you’ve gotta have some cred, PLUS a really excellent offering. People are just looking for reasons to say, “No. Maybe later.” There is still a lot of lambasting of Indie Authors in the media and online. Much of it driven by angry publishers (who overlook the fact that they have been known to dish some pretty egregious plates of garbage, too) and their publicists, quite anonymously. Readers pick up on it as an easy answer. If you’re going to self-pub your books, you’ve gotta make sure they are better than mass market fiction or you’ll only sell a few here and there

    Besides, cavemen were excellent at writing, only they called it storytelling, which they passed up to us. We just learned how to have a bigger group around the fire than they had! 😉

  77. I rewrote my first novel three times. It’s the one I am currently hoping to have published sometime in the near term. =)

    In retrospect, three versions is not bad. And the third version was the result of my engagement with a professional editor, so I could have easily gone through several more iterations before making the brilliant decision to confer with a suject matter expert. However, as much as she said she loved the story after we’d gone through the developmental editing process, she had comments about a few of the scenes. She made recommendations, which I considered very carefully, as she specializes in my genre of contemporary romance. I made some of the changes because I honestly felt they made sense. BUT, I couldn’t accept all of the critiques. Much as I felt she had the best insight, I also knew that I wanted this specific scene to play out a certain way. This is where we had a benevolent clash of the personalities, meaning the way in which we would each approach handling the scene was very different. I held my ground because I believed it needed to be more dramatic than what she felt was necessary.

    I defied my editor, pleasantly of course. =) But who knows if I made the right call?

    I’m okay with a difference of opinion. If I really believe in building things a certain way, I feel like I’ve developed some confidence to stay on that path.

    Hopefully, I can continue to build that confidence as I write more. But it feels good to stay true to myself…sometimes. =)

  78. Excellent article. Yes, I went through a million rewrites of my first in a series, trying to please one person behind a desk – new person and new desk each and every time – in my hunt to get published. It took 20 to 30 years to grow a thick skin and finally go my own way. More people love my work than don’t (science fiction). Book two, also, is doing well. I’m now on book 3.

    I no longer listen to tear-down criticism. I have a trusted beta reader and I trust my own gut. I will shelve a work and read it back fresh before I ever allow it out. It has to sit true with me, and I do make sure of it.

    Some critics mean well. Some don’t. It’s worth writers being aware of that, too.

    Cheers. 🙂

  79. Interesting perspective, I never thought of it that way. But you are right. Not everyone can play music or sing, but many think they can write a novel. Until they try to actually do it! And it is difficult to not take every criticism to heart. Thanks for the reminder that we can do it our way.

  80. Excellent advice. One of the best blogs I’ve read to encourage the writer. Thanks so much.

  81. I remember how just one person’s comment at critique would make me want to rewrite or delete my ms. When we’re new, we assume those other writers know so much more than we do. I’m glad I’m past that stage, pretty much.

    I remember one of my writer friends was an established writer, had had many books published. An editor she submitted her current ms to critiqued it drastically. She revised it, and when she read the rewrites to us, the piece had completely lost her voice. It was flat. Everyone in our critique felt the same way. So even experienced writers can become insecure when they receive critique from someone they think is so much more experienced than they are, and throw in how that editor might want to acquire the piece. It ruined the piece. She changed it back and bypassed that editor.

    As a children’s writer, there’s also a stigma about us among other writers. It’s viewed as easy. Seems like everyone and their brother thinks they can write a children’s book, especially a picture book. Picture books are actually harder to write because every word counts. You have to limit the number of words. Writing for ages 8 to 12 is easier for me than writing a picture book. They’re not easy to sell these days either and there are less being published.

    As far as the difference in how musicians are judged compared to authors, that’s an excellent point. Makes perfect sense.

  82. When I started writing several years ago, and four manuscripts. I was surprised when my five brothers and sisters supported what I was doing. The main comment I heard most, “I didn’t know you wanted to write or even had dreams of it. Go for it”. But in the end, when I published my first book, they did not purchase a copy. I have asked them about that and they would tell me they would purchase a copy to read, but they never did.

    I have lived by the rule that I will not publish a book without first having the book edited by a professional. The comments I have received have not bothered me, but as you mention, you have to decide which ones to use and those to leave on the table. I do not want to be one of those writers who publish books with grammatical errors and story lines that go no where.

    I have also discovered it takes time to find the right editor to work with. Many say they can, but few really can edit.

  83. I’ve been writing for years, and I know it’s not easy. it is very, very hard. There are days when I find it difficult to get the words down on the pages. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  84. Love this

  85. It never ceases to amaze me how under-appreciated writing in reading can be. Even in today’s world, when we live in a very “informational” society. We often wonder about things in life but very few are willing to go the extra mile to research. Rather, they speak with friends and family about the subjects that are on their mind so often instead of picking up a book or heck even googling the subject (for Google is a great informational tool these days). I thank you for this blog post and shedding some light on the subject of “Yes, even a caveman can do it.”

  86. Thank you for this awesome post. People think that writing is like a hobby – they don’t treat it seriously, don’t treat you seriously. For my part, I’ve found that you need to believe in yourself first – believe you can do it, write your book. Then you cement that belief in concrete. Yes, I would send my book to someone who would hate it, just to find that one unique piece that will add value to my story. I would consider all the points but I wouldn’t just rewrite it all if I find it will kill my story – what I’m trying to express. I guess, I’d try to find a way to use the criticism and stay true to my story. Thanks again for sharing this!

  87. As a non-writer with a cave themed blog that just wrote about indie music – I feel kind of inadequate after reading this post. And maybe some of that has to also do with being a non-musician writing about music. 🙂 Some of us are just cramming our thoughts into words and punctuation that are close enough to get the job done. I have much respect for well written work and also for well crafted music. But there is a certain charm about the inept hero just belting it out for the world to hear. Maybe that is why I love punk music so much. Sorry to ramble on…but as I said— I am a caveman with a blog. 🙂

  88. I am so beyond glad that I found your blog. This is beyond brilliant and I for sure about to become an avid reader of yours. I’m an aspiring writer and just write to write. There are some days when I’m just not feeling it and I know that if I try and write something it’s just going to come out complete crap. And then there are other days that I can just write for hours. One thing I always have trouble with is dialogue. I’m totally fine with description and being inside a characters head but I can never seem to get the hang of dialogue. I can never seem to get my point across when people are speaking. Any tips?

    1. Watch good television series and movies. Study dialogue and body language. Watch over and over and over like a football coach studying games.

      1. Interesting. I watch plenty of television but never really pay much attention to how people speak to each other. Thank you!

  89. I found this post to be truly inspiring. I too have gotten a lot of comments in regards to my writing, and being an English major. I believe that with hard work and dedication anyone can get where they want to be. I am currently trying to perfect my skills as a writer and I am open to positive and negative feedback. I Just recently made my account so I don’t have many posts, but I would greatly appreciate it if you have the time to give my stuff a read.

  90. Reblogged this on My Stuff.

  91. Yes, a caveman can do it. Like Saint John in the cave at Patmos.
    A bestseller for all ages.


    • RobinLK on March 11, 2014 at 2:32 pm
    • Reply

    Bravo! As a newbie writer (seasoned teacher with two books writing themselves in her head), I find satisfaction in blogging and struggle with getting words on paper..ummmm… screen (all nonfiction)…. Your post gives me pause. And a smile. 🙂

  92. Great post! And very true as well. Writing well is a skill, and you will never please everyone. I no longer bother to try pleasing everyone…If I am not satisfied, then it gets reworked. If it is technical or grammatical, then I make changes. If I am happy, then that’s what matters in the end. (I do listen to advice when it comes to flow, grammar or technical mumbo-jumbo.)

  93. As a technical writer, my colleagues and I often discuss the attitude that we find among some (but certainly not all), engineers, software developers, and even among certain managers. It is an attitude that writing technical documentation is something that anyone can do. Often this attitude tends to devalue the work of the professional technical writer, and I know of more than one who as left the profession because of this attitude. Again, I stress that I am talking about only a few people here.

    A few months ago, I was working with a developer who had such an attitude. After spending an afternoon with me, listening to me explain how procedural steps were structured, how the content had to conform to the corporate style guide, the nuances of several software tools as well as how we structure our documents to include translations in 9 languages, he sat back and said “wow, I never knew you did all that”.

  94. Love this, thank you! http://www.everupward.org

  95. brilliant post!!!


    • Penny Taylor on March 11, 2014 at 5:32 pm
    • Reply

    I just stumbled on you as I was looking for WordPress themes. I find the best things that way. You have great insight. I didn’t write most of my life, because I was sure people didn’t really make money at it unless they were James A. Michener or Stephen King. And then one day when faced with another supervisor who told me to falsify a report and another situation where I would say, “no” and have to look for ANOTHER job, I decided I was going to do it my way… and I began writing.

  96. What tips do you have for me? Can you look at my blog madam writer 🙂 Love your blog!

  97. Awesome post.. Thanks for this 😉

  98. So true!

  99. Reblogged this on Caroline over the top & overboard and commented:
    Loved this!

    • Shannon on March 11, 2014 at 6:11 pm
    • Reply

    Nicely written.

  100. My favorite was when a dentist told me she was thinking of quitting dentistry to write books. Which would have been just fine had she ever shown any talent for writing. Which she didn’t. I guess we laugh about it to keep ourselves from crying:).

  101. Great post, Kristen. I needed to read this, so thanks. I just recently got some feedback and realized I can’t please everyone, not by a long shot, nor did I agree with everything they said. But I also got a lot of good bits, too. The only way to grow is to get feedback even if it’s painful.

  102. The creative process is one of those things that once you start down that path you just can’t shake. I come from a visual art background where a picture is worth a thousand words, but to actually put together a thousand words that paints a picture- not easy. Engaging writing is hard work that doesn’t happen over night. I especially like what you said about failure being the tuition for success. Thanks for sharing your experience and creative generosity.

  103. only if you have a brain 🙂 writing is the realm of the intelligent 🙂