It is a lingering doubt, but an important one: Is it time to rethink why I write? Maybe it’s always a good time to rethink why I write, and how I write.
One thing is sure, though: I’m always learning, and the fact that I didn’t get completely depressed again when I recently got some critique is a good sign that I’m probably showing - maybe - some improvement. I think I’ve conclusively shown that the answer to the obvious first question, “should I write to begin with?”, is a resounding “yep”.
Now, I just need to seek some guidance on “how” and “why”.
I got critique on two things, actually: a story I’ve been working on, and my blog posts. The former was requested, the latter wasn’t [the critical comment apparently isn’t there any more, though]. But both, fortunately, made me think all the same.
The former critique made me feel a little bit weird. Here I was, completely sure that the story was awesome. The first poster said that it bloody well wasn’t awesome. I took a good look at the story and concluded “holy shit, this story is awful, I need to fix this stuff pretty thoroughly.” I’ve been trimming the story, filling holes, and making the story make a little bit more sense. Maybe the foremost lesson I learnt from this is that I had again tripped over the famed “pee-headedness line”; I really, really, really should get critique more often because I get all of these delusions that the stories are actually in good shape when they plainly and obviously are not.
I guess that’s what the critique is supposed to be about. I need someone to bring me back to the ground and be realistic.
And the scary thing is this: I’ve experienced it before. I’ve told this to others. And here I am, suffering through the same thing again. Oh well, doses of realism are always healthy…
But here’s another thing to be learnt from this: I think the story isn’t going to suck completely. And now that the problems have been caught, they can be fixed. Things will be all right. This is why I also should get more critique - I keep hearing about all these flaws, but I don’t always spot them in my own stories. This is why editors are awesome.
The second, uninvited critique gave me another fascinating thought. I’ve been blogging for a long time. I’ve never really worried about getting any readers; there has always been some random commenters no matter what I’ve rambled of and where I’ve hosted the blog. It’s pretty clear that I’ve written some interesting posts.
But here’s the annoying thing: I’ve never really thought who am I writing these blog posts for. I’ve written them for myself, primarily.
So imagine my surprise when Google Analytics says that I’ve gotten 47,940.91% traffic increase. (Yes, really.) Someone posted the article about Emacs to Hacker News. And there, we have someone complaining about the “passive-aggressive” crap in the intro.
Wow. I’ve written something that turned out to be interesting for some people and apparently generated some interesting discussion. And people complain about my writing. Aargh! I had not considered the idea that it might become popular! I had no idea that actual people would read my article!
Maybe I should start writing articles for actual people - consider the readability a little bit, try to avoid some annoying style. In short: I should not just write for myself. Yeah! I should… write for the readers.
(Cue an army of Emacs users going
M-x facepalm again)
This is obvious stuff. Why didn’t I see it before?
I think this illustrates one of the problems I have with a lot of writing advice: You never realise what the heck all those good bits of advice actually mean until you get burned personally, or someone points out that this stuff actually applies to your own writing. You may hear advice over and over and over again, or even think of some exceedingly obvious things beforehand,
This is a class of problems that are simple to understand, but hard to spot. And that’s why we have other people. That’s why it’s awesome to have editors.
Not that any editor would have pointed out that I need to do some incredibly obvious things like actually writing for actual readers, but the principle remains the same.
Scott Adams was right with one of the claims in “The Dilbert Principle” - It’s impossible to be smart all the time, and we’re all idiots sometimes.
So why I write? I think the answer before was “because it’s fun”. I think my new answer is “because it’s fun, and I hope you find it fun too”. How I write? By learning while I do it. Always more learning. And when I think I should stop learning, I need to be whacked on the head until I remember that I was supposed to be learning.
I try to make my writing clearer. I promise to strive for improvement. Please tell me when I fail, because fail I shall.