Praise is a Dangerous Thing for Authors

I received a hand-written note from someone today. In it, it said this:

“You are a very gifted writer.”

I don’t want to hear this. Stop it right now! This is a blatant attempt to allow my ego to take over and make self-congratulatory remarks. I can hear myself already: “I am pretty awesome.” “It’s so obvious. Why doesn’t the rest of the world know yet?”

Before I go any further, I would like to say that,¬†of course, this note meant the world to me. It was a sincere compliment, talking specifically about the show that this person watched last week. I’m grateful. Touched, really. Humbled.

But I can’t let it mean anything to me. I can’t let this praise get into my head. I need to keep beating myself up over my poor writing skills. I need to live in the writing doldrums, where everyone catches a breeze except me. I’m paddling an aircraft carrier with a broken oar. And it’s not working. I’m starting to sink. And I get depressed every time I look at my writing.

That’s what I need to hear. The danger is real. If a writer was to rest on the proverbial laurels, take in the accolades, and suddenly get lazy in his writing, well, then, game-over.

I can’t afford to listen to such talk. I have a task ahead of me: be creative, really creative, stretch my language skills, look at the world in new ways, edit and re-edit and re-edit the re-edit. This is no time to relax and congratulate myself.

I have stories to tell and characters to create, and they are depending on me. They don’t want to be some shoddy action figure to a cardboard backdrop. They need to be real. The only way to be real is for me to face the facts. Writing is hard. It’s never finished. I’ll never be as talented as others. I’ll never be this or that, but I will be one thing. I’ll be a dedicated writer. I’ll develop my craft and create stories which are worthy of my time and effort.

And the only way I can do that is to not let my guard down. So buck it up, writer. Don’t look at what you’ve done in the past. Don’t re-read those 5-star reviews. This is no time to get soft. Dig in and tell the best story of your life.

PS: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

When writing, I don’t want to sound smart. I want to sound real.

I was reading some reviews written by some readers of a particular novelist whom I am not familiar with. The readers were noting some of the rather bizarre metaphors that the author was using and said that if you liked the sound of these then you will like this person’s writing.

The metaphors themselves seemed a little pretentious with rather complicated and strange imagery which wasn’t really very accessible to the mind – at least not my mind. It got me thinking once again how as a writer, metaphors are meant to add to story – add to the reader’s visual perception of the storytelling. If a metaphor makes a reader stop and think “what in the heck does that mean” then I think it has lost its purpose.

Metaphors aren’t meant to make a writer sound smart.

I’m sure all of my metaphors and imagery do not have the desired effect on my readers. I’m sure I have swung and missed on some of my attempts to strengthen the meaning of a line. But as I write, my over-arching goal is simple – don’t try to sound smart, try and sound real.

That’s what I think good writing is. Words that flow in a natural and real manner. Words that paint pictures which etch out the image of the characters into vivid visualizations. Words that bring out emotion and humanity. That is the goal in my writing.

I try to keep it simple. I will not construct elaborate metaphors unless they will be completely obvious and helpful to the reader.

That’s how I approach my writing. I don’t always succeed and there is always room for improvement, but I want my writing to be accessible, real, and emotional. Not distant and pretentious sounding.

But that’s just me.