Sunday, 7 September 2008

I'm going through a crisis of confidence! I've never read other authors for ideas or resorted to scouring the newspapers for incidents. Without wishing to sound pretentious, I find life itself is inspiring enough. Places, chance encounters, unexpected twists in the weather, someone who doesn't answer the phone... I find anything can set off a 'what if' train of thought. For a while I was absorbed in writing. I've taken to reading avidly again and reading successful authors is a humbling experience. I'm at least as skilled as some I've read, but many authors write so well, and their plots are so damn clever, I feel my excitement at being published peeling away. I know my books will never be classed as timeless great literature (I'm not arrogant) but I do want to be really really good, at least. It's so hard to see beyond the veil of satisfaction at producing a story and tell if it's actually any good. Two questions.
1. I've asked this before but make no apology for repeating myself. I'll probably never stop asking this question. Is it possible to judge one's own work?
2. Is this all just about my ego?

23 comments:

Vwriter said...

Hello Leigh!

Sure we can judge our own work. Of course, we usually think, "What a marvelous piece of writing. This author has some serious talent." Although some writers tend toward the reverse with, "Mother must have dropped me on the head repeatedly," or "This sounded so brilliant when I was writing it, who switched manuscripts on me."

Seriously, we can judge our own works relatively well if a year or two passes between the time we write it and the time we read it. We absolutley have to "distance" ourselves from a piece of fiction before we can have any objectivity.

And yes, it is all about our egos- in the beginning. Over time, even writers grow as people, realizing that although ego gives us drive, we share the road with others. Sometime after that we grasp that our writing allows others to ride with us, and as we develope an appreciation and empathy for our current and future readers, we want to take them to somewhere important. That is when we leave the title "writer" behind and become "authors."

Those are the short answers!

Leigh Russell said...

I find it hard to 'distance' myself from my writing, especially the MS I've worked on for a long time. It's hard to read the writing rather than the substance, but that's my inexperience talking.
I know we share the road with others. I'm fine with the sharing idea. I'd love to feel confident I was sharing the road with some of the writers I've been reading. I'm nervous in case, in reality, I'm so far behind, that I'm not really sharing but tagging along behind... It's hard to steer a level path between buzzing with 'brilliance' and being hypercritical of myself.
Finally, I'm not sure I have somewhere important to take my readers. I just want to tell a really good story that keeps the reader absorbed until the last page, and leaves them wanting more. That's the relationship I want with my readers!

BernardL said...

1. I've asked this before but make no apology for repeating myself. I'll probably never stop asking this question. Is it possible to judge one's own work?

I believe if you don't like your own work, no one else will either. I can't think of anything more difficult than editing a manuscript I dislike. If you love what you've written, then there is definitely an audience for your work. With the difficulty in acquiring an agent or publisher in this business, when one or the other believes in your work, others will too.

2. Is this all just about my ego?

I doubt it's possible to be a writer without an ego. :)

spyscribbler said...

Oh yeah, I know the feeling! I don't know if we can judge our own work, but I figure we can't go wrong when we're critical, LOL.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't think you can judge your own work in the "big" scheme of things, but you can judge whether you took care and whether it works on the primary levels. Vwriter is right about the need for some distancing from the work.

fizzycat said...

No you being cautious as the writing world is still new.
On the subject of slug pellets. I have not purchased any ever, before. Now, there are ones that can be ingested by animals without poisoning which still get slugs hopefully they will all be like this eventually. I don't mind them ( slugs) in the garden I just wish I could train them to stay off my veg and eat my weeds instead.

Sleepy said...

I know there are actors/actresses who never watch themselves perhaps it's the same with authors.
Once it's written and 'out there' you shouldn't revisit it.

Britta Coleman said...

We all swing between "I'm brilliant" and "I'm a hack." It's neuroses and fear, ego and hope. But I do think deep down we have some sense of where we fall on our internal spectrum. Which is why we can only write, and rewrite, to the extent that the work pleases us.

Elizabeth Platt said...

I honestly think it's virtually impossible to judge our own writing. Not completely impossible, because we can be objective sometimes if we turn off both our self-criticism and our ego, really look at the work and tweak it until it fulfills what we imagined.

I think vwriter is right, you need space between when you wrote it and read it back. Not sure about the year or two, I've read stuff I wrote a couple of years ago and hated it so so much because I remember where I was emotionally and such when I wrote it. It had nothing to do with if it was any good or not.

Is it about ego? That's a hell yes. It has to be. Writing is. If ego is our sense of self and our confidence then writing, wanting to be better and wanting people to read what we write is about nothing but ego. That doesn't make it bad. That just makes it human. It also doesn't make us egotistical, it just means we want to be the best we can be.

Bill Clark said...

Good post, good comment thread!

As I reread my "masterpiece" I wrote this summer, I vacillate. Mostly I think it's brilliant, and I move myself to tears (literally!) with my own writing. Other times I think it's crap and that's why no agents have broken down my door yet.

And yes, of course it's all about ego. William James said, "The end of life is to do something that will outlast life," and that's what we writers are all about. No doubt the result of all those English teachers we had who told us that good writing is immortal and making millions in the stock market is for yahoos.

(Is there a happy medium, one wonders?)

Middle Ditch said...

Hi Leigh, I came across you once or twice whilst traveling through blogland and I though it high time to visit you.

I'm with vwriter. He's great. I have thought about closing my Grindhirst blog several times because I think it's a crap story. At the time of writing I thought it was a great story. However, since I put the map on the blog I've seen how many visitors I have and that has encouraged me, so, for now I keep it going.

It's very hard to distance yourself from your writing. I have always found it best to leave it alone for a while and read it anew after a long time.

When I put a new segment of Grindhirst on my blog and I look at the original writing (years ago) I wince and more or less rewrite the whole thing.

And as time changes and moves on, everything in the story is also hopelessly out of date. But who cares! When I watch something filmed years ago, I think it's endearing to see those huge mobile phones.

The best writers, actors etc all suffer at times from low self esteem. Keep going you .........

lol

By the way, Helen Hardy is giving an oscar winning performance on Middle Ditch 19.

Debs said...

I think we can judge our own writing to an extent. I've written an m/s and thought it was great, until I'd left it for a while and then came back to it and re-wrote the entire thing, twice.

Leigh Russell said...

I discovered I have two 'followers'. I found your status mentioned somewhere on my blog but don't know how to add the 'gadget' that lists you on the blog itself... Keep commenting on the blog please. I'll sort out the gadget (or is it called a widget?) one day, when I can work out how to do it. Thank you for being my followers. That's a first.

Leigh Russell said...

I think when I said 'ego' I really meant 'egotistic'. It seems to be a very fine line between confidence and conceit - and between humility and insecurity. (sigh - why can't life be easy?)

Leigh Russell said...

4,001 visitors to my blog! I missed the 4,000 which I intended to celebrate. (Am I being egotistical again?) I'll have to wait for the 5,000 before I bring out the bunting and balloons. (Now I'm just being daft. Time to go and do some serious writing.)

Akasha Savage said...

Of course it's all about ego! I think all we writers want to be told is, we're not just good but brilliant!
As for judging our own work. I think that's a bit like swings and roundabouts. One day I can read something I've written and think it's the best thing since sliced bread, but the next day completely pull it to bits - especially if I've just read a good novel by a talented author.
But the more we write, the better we'll get...hopefully. One day we WILL be best selling writers!!
;)

Leigh Russell said...

Is it ego, or a desire to earn so much from our writing that we can give up the day job and write all day long... Although full time writers now have to spend so much time promoting their books, that becomes the day job. Can't win if all you want to do is write. (And blog...)

Adventure Mother said...

Hello and thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog. I am no writer but I know how critical when can all be of ourselves. Somedays I feel useless at everything - can't cook, can't get on top of my work, useless mother syndrome, etc. But then other days, I on top of the world and am better than anyone! Well done you, I've never read crime fiction before but shall look forward to your first novel! Keep up the good work!

Stewart Sternberg said...

Hi Leigh. Don't worry about plots. Plots are what happen. The important thing is WHO they happen to. If you want to write something interesting, find interesting people. Me? I always have an idea of something, but it's the people in the story who dictate the twists and turns. It's one of the reason I keep intricate character sheets. When I need inspiration, I first find a character and then give them a push to see where they'll be taking me.

Vwriter said...

Only one day short of a week without a post from you Leigh. We're all getting withdrawal symptoms.

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks adventure mother.
Stewart Sternberg - You've inspired my next post. I'm intrigued by your intricate character sheets. Do you include physical descriptions, nature of work, etc. I wonder. You say your characters dictate what happens. Dangerous waters, I think. I'd love a fuller answer from you on my new post. I want to hear more about your character sheets. I don't keep any notes... Do you think I should?
vwriter - done.

Leigh Russell said...

ps - vwriter - my ego appreciated your last comment!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I love your answer to this:
"Try writing your name with your other hand. Where was that person raised?"
YOUR ANSWER: Through the looking glass.

The question that came up for my profile was:
"What spells can you cast with magic markers?"
MY ANSWER: Magic markers are writing instruments and there's something magical about a book, so I simply write myself into another time and place.

I noticed you like Mozart. My favorite music is Mozart's Bassoon Concerto. Can you guess I used to play the bassoon?