Yesterday Sara made a commented on her blog about how silly the need for complements from other writers. I adamantly disagree.
I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again. Writing for yourself is like playing tennis with a wall. There’s a kind of satisfaction on a primal level that comes from the feel of the ball hitting the racket, the success of having caused the ball to leave your control then return to it as it bounces off the wall, and a kind of Zen-like trance from the repeated action that lends itself to peace and insight. But it’s not the same as playing tennis with another person. Writing, particularly when you get in the flow, is excellent therapy in and of itself. The process of spinning dreams into yarns enthralls me. But writing with no audience in mind but yourself isn’t the same as writing with the intention of being read by others.
I came to this conclusion after many, many years spent writing in isolation. It took me a couple of decades – yes, decades – to get my writing to anything remotely resembling reasonable, let alone good. Every time I shared what I did I got slammed. I bounced in and out of a number of writing groups, sometimes staying a few months and sometimes for years, but never sharing everything I did. Most of the over 3 million words I’ve written have never been seen by anyone but myself. Probably about 1 million of those words never will be, thank God.
Writing so much with no outside feedback helped me firm my voice. Maybe. Frankly my voice is very different in each of the stories I have written, and tends to reflect the material in question as much if not more than something about myself. So I’m not sure you can really say my voice is firm even now. But I am very confident about my vision for any given story. I think that comes from having done so much in isolation.
But writing without feedback has not been good for me in other ways. I have often found myself becoming hidebound over things that didn’t deserve my staunch support – be it unappealing characters, poor word choices, or muddy themes. Feed back – which at this stage I can only get from other writers as I’ve long since burned through all my non-writing friends and family – has made an enormous difference in my learning curve in the last two or three years. The more brutally honest, the better. But only so long as I know it is possible to wow the critiquer. If I think I have no hope of impressing her or him, I only get depressed.
Allowing myself to be influenced by my critique group has improved not only the work in question, but everything I write. I feel that in the last few months I hit a new plateau in quality. High, not low. *grin* I go back to my old work and my older work and I can see improvement. I like what I’m producing now better than what I did before. I can credit the writers who critiqued me both in FanLit Forever and in From The Heart Romance Writers.
So I say heck yeah I will be influenced. I won’t change my story to match what someone else would like to read just because my story is like their idea of it, but if I can make my story more interesting, more meaningful, or more fun by fishing for the “hey wow” response from other writers then why shouldn’t I enjoy the complements? Better to accept honest praise with a shit eating grin than to make my PTA buddies read yet another attempt at Romantic Suspense or Historical Romance or to shove yet another manuscript under the bed, or in my case the filing cabinet with no handle.
For me it isn’t silly at all. It’s a basic necessity.