Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who are you Trying to Impress 2

Last post, I argued that some writers strive to impress the critics. Other writers write primarily to impress their peers. In practice, I see this most often in writers who join critique groups populated by other authors. I’ve been in a few myself.

All writers want to impress their chosen “audience,” and I use “impress” on purpose because it’s a strong word that calls attention to itself. Whatever audience we choose, we want the respect of that audience. We want them to say, “job well done.” For the critique group writer, the first audience is a group of other writers. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. Most writers are also readers themselves so they can offer informed feedback on two fronts. However, it’s clear in my experience that writers typically judge fiction differently than do readers who don’t write.

What characterizes the work of writers who write to impress their peers? One, their prose is usually lucid and shows good grammar. There is often the modest use of metaphorical and poetic prose. These writers tend to use standard style for punctuation and dialogue. They don’t want their “format” to get in the way of communicating with the reader.

Writers who write for their peers also tend to insert self-referential elements into their work. They slip in references to other writers and to great works of fiction (which is not uncommon among the “write-for-critics” group, as well). They want to appear erudite for an educated and informed audience.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with writing for other writers. It can bring you acclaim, and sometimes wads of cash. Your work may not be taught in literature classes of the future, but it won’t be something disdained by those who teach such classes. It may not, however, give you the “common touch” that often marks the mega-selling author. And it won’t give you the widest possible audience.

Our next post will take us to those who write only for themselves.

P.S. I’d like to thank Writtenwyrdd (D. Lynn Frazier) for awarding me the “Kreativ Blogger” award. Much appreciated. There is a meme attached and I will get around to that after my current series of posts runs its course. Thanks again!

Also, the new Illuminata is out, with an expansion on a blog post I did called “Word Count Ruthlessness.” There’s plenty of other good stuff in there too. You can download the issue for free at the link. Look for Volume 7, Issue 1.
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47 comments:

Sarai said...

This is very true. I've notice that when I was in a group my writing tended to go in a direction that would win the "nice job" reward. Stepping back I realized I didn't need that I wanted to write the way I felt was good for me.

As always very insightful!

benjibopper said...

This is great stuff, Charles. Lately I've sadly found myself falling into 'write for the publisher' category. Just trying to get the damn thing circulating in print.

benjibopper said...

ps. love the new pic.

A. Kichu said...

Amen to this post. BTW, loved browsing your blog!

Miladysa said...

Very interesting.

It has crossed my mind that an author was 'trying to impress' or make him/herself appear clever. I never realised other people had these thoughts too! LOL

spyscribbler said...

I always say I write for my readers, but I'm not sure, lately. My latest is a little wacky. I don't know where it came from, and I haven't really heard much feedback.

~PakKaramu~ said...

Pak Karamu visiting your blog

JR's Thumbprints said...

Charles, I just listened to the podcast. The narrator was one intense dude. I kept thinking the genre was horror-erotica. Is their such a thing? I plan on coming back to read some of your other stuff. Slow down, I can't keep up!

As for your question: Who do I write for? I'm not sure on this one. I will say this - I write for attention; It doesn't matter so much to me if it's a critic, other writers, or peers. Does this make sense? Oh, I also write in hopes of having a story get noticed. By who? Again, it doesn't matter. Or should I say, by as many people as possible.

Leon Basin said...

Hey, how are you doing? I really like your blog. Thanks for sharing your wonderful information.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sarai, I don't see writing for any particular audience as being wrong, just that folks should understand the demands of that audience and how it affects their writing. Just what you are talking about here.

Benjibopper, I find myself doing that too, but find I don't get as much satisfaction out of the finished product as I'd like.

A. Kichu, thanks. Glad you enjoyed. I'll check out your blog as well.

Miladysa, well, like they say, there's probably nothing new under the sun.

Spyscribbler, I suspect most of us combine audiences. We don't write for just one. But I'll be talking about that.

Pakaramu, thanks for visiting.

J.R., I think most of us do write for a combination of audiences, although it helps maybe to identify those. There is definitely an erotic horror submarket out there. It's pretty popular, though it has been more popular in the past than it is right now.

Charles Gramlich said...

Leon, thanks for visiting. Glad you enjoyed.

Christina said...

I haven't been to a writer group for critics, though it felt like that when I was going to college. That kind of burnt me out on getting fed back from large groups. I found that the problem with being in groups like that in college, was that I wasn't among peers that read the same things as me, nor wrote in genre, so no one ever liked what I did. If you didn't write what the teacher liked to read, you tended to not really live up to what the class was teaching. That said, I avoid large reading groups and stick with the one or two peer readers who like the genre that I write in, though I have one person who doesn't read the genre I write in and she's my #1 content reader. She's great.

laughingwolf said...

readers of all kinds, and their feedback, are great, but like the animators at the old termite terrace, it's mainly for myself and friends

of course, it would be grand to have a breakout, and the wads of moolah... but working for that, alone, leaves my mind impotent

Jo said...

I think I like to read writers who tell a story, and who are writing for no one in particular, except to tell the story for whomever wants to listen. I like the old adage KISS (keep it simple, stupid). I think writer who write for a particular "audience" start to sound self-conscious.

I know it sounds crazy, but one of my favorite writers was always Stephen King, because he is a great story teller.

Steve Malley said...

One thing you didn't mention about this group: it's pretty much the easiest to succeed in.

Some writers, like the aforementioned Stephen King, write for an audience of one close friend/partner/etc. (In his case, his wife Tabitha). They probably have the easiest job of all, asking simply 'will he/she like this?'

But after them, writing for peers is probably the most easily satisfying: one has only to join a writing group and home in on their tastes.

Impressing critics and customers implies getting one's work published first, and writing to impress oneself can be a horribly difficult task...

Me, I'm a 'hypothetical audience' writer. But that's another story!

Lana Gramlich said...

Congrats on the award, sweetie pie!

Cloudia said...

Charles: thanks for this writing clinic. You are stating things that I didn't realize consciously before. Useful! Aloha-

ivan said...

And you look cool, too.

(signed)

Brokeback.

Charles Gramlich said...

Christina, I’ve always been pretty much an outsider in every group I’ve been in, although the first group I was in in New Orleans had another fellow whose writing I admired, and over time we each began moving a little closer to the other’s interests. A group I’m in now, and may not stay in for long, has absolutely no one who is interested in SF, Fantasy or horror.

Laughingwolf, I figure if I’m going to put all that work into it I sure would like it to have a wide audience and maybe pay me some cash.

Jo, I think “storytellers” are those who are writing primarily for readers. I think people who write for the critics are most likely to do the “self conscious” writing.

Steve Malley, yes, I think it can be dangerous though if you want a wider audience, because you may begin to feel like the feedback from the group is enough. Same could probably be said of blog writing, though.

Lana, thankee.

Cloudia, I’m glad if it helped.

Ivan, hey, you agree with Lana. 

SQT said...

I never thought about it, but you are so right about the peer thing. I want to be complimented by other writers so much more than a friend or family member who doesn't write (or read too much for that matter). If someone who is in-the-know says something is good, well, that's a little thrill.

David Cranmer said...

I don't write for critics and being a nano blip on their radar screen, I'm not sure it would matter if I tried.

Lisa said...

It's funny because this has changed over the last couple of years for me. The last novel work shop I did finished more than a year ago. I did two fairly intense 8 week work shops where 8 - 10 of us critiqued each person's novel chapter. Initially, it was really important for me to do this and I'm glad I did. I assumed everyone else would be a better writer than I am and I think some were and some weren't. Getting that much detailed feedback on an excerpt really helped to put the comments into perspective. If 8 people loved something and one hated it, I had a pretty good idea of whether it was working or not. Or sometimes, there was just one person who was especially discerning and offered great insights nobody else had. In addition to learning much about craft, at that point I really needed the external validation. I didn't mind the constructive or negative feedback in the least (not that I paid attention to all of it), but I did kvell at reading "beautiful imagery" or some other kudo after a decent sentence.

But after the second 8 week session, it was enough already. I learned enough to press on alone and I had really gotten about as much from it as I was going to.

I still have a lot to learn, but now, I view sharing work in progress completely differently. I am disinclined to look to other writers to assess unfinished work because I think it's tough to find someone who really understands what you're trying to do and who is skilled enough as a reader/editor honest enough to say what he or she really thinks.

I'm back in the closet for the time being.

Robin said...

Oh, wow, Charles...I see your name pop up on other blogs I read, and I love your comments (and more often than not, agree, which makes you as nuts as I am?!)

I have never clicked on your name before and it was so timely that I did now! You make a whole lot of sense while probing deeply into a writer's psyche (often not a safe place to be?!)

I write because I have to, I enjoy it...but if I have to be honest? I write for the less cerebral public looking for escapist fiction...yeah, I would love to be as lyrical as Pat Conroy, but I wound up sounding like Janet Evanovich.

So for my "bastard baby" (I've learned novel #1 will be pulverized and destroyed, so I'm sending my bastard out before my legitimate baby)...it's a romp much along the lines of Evanovich (I however, WAS a PI for 2 1/2 years, very boring!)....but here's the deal, we started a "writer's group" here in the midst of the TX Panhandle (Travis is my neighbor, just 65 miles away...his critique groups are "full", the weiner!) and I thought things were going well. We finally got around to "critique" and MY story got kicked out, because it wasn't "suitable" for our moderator's, home-schooled 16 year old daughter?

I didn't use the "f" word, there was NO sex, there wasn't even heaving bosom's! Most of the women in my group write devotional's, childrens' stories, or short storie's for "Christian Woman"...there is nothing wrong with that...and I love my group because they keep me motivated to write (time is an issue for me!) but I couldn't believe my tame, "mainstream" fiction story, after the first two chapters was only admissable if the "daughter" wasn't coming?! I was hurt (I so wanted to stand up for Lori, my character, yeah, she cursed, but not gratuitously!)

So, there you have it...if I write for my critique group this grand romp and very funny story will change in chapter 3 whereupon Lori enters a church in search of a suspect and then collapses to her knees, has an epiphany, or a vision...and goes on a mission from God. But my original idea is this hapless (though fearless) chic finds herself caught between TX good ole boys /TX high school football/ and NJ mafioso wannabe's making books on TX high school football...maybe she could find Jesus after?

So, I just have to write the story that's in my head, to hell with my "critique" group...or the genre that's selling...I'll follow grammatical rules (as you can see, I've a problem with author intrusion)

Maybe someday I'll find the nerve to actually submit something.

Wow...this is a long comment! Sorry! I was inspired?

the walking man said...

"Impress" is a strong word. I've been lightly thinking on this since the first post and still have no definitive answer that I am comfortable with.

Never been to a writers group beyond a class or two. so I doubt I am specifically writing for peers.

The one thing that I have settled on though is that no matter the group one is trying to impress or get that "well done" from, including the self; they all compromise the audience for which we write.

Charles Gramlich said...

SQT, there's definitely a feeling in me of wanting to be appreciated as a professional by other professionals.

David Cranmer, you and me both. I could write for the critics all day long and they wouldn't notice. But I'd probaly have to submit stuff to magazines other than "Beat to a Pulp" eh? ;)

Lisa, I've definitely changed in my own approach to an audience over the time I've been writing. At first I didn't even consider an audience really. But I will talk about that in some later posts.

Robin, thanks for visiting, and for chiming in with your thoughts. I'm torn with the critique group I'm in now for somewhat of the same reason. A lot of my stuff is fairly violent and gory and most of the folks in the group really don't read or appreciate that type of stuff.

Mark, I don't have any final answers, of course, but I usually have plenty of thoughts on any subject. And I think it's somewhat important at least for writers to be conscious of who they are trying to reach.

etain_lavena said...

We all love admiration and attention, were only human after all:)

cs harris said...

Love the new photo!

An interesting topic. I know I find myself writing more and more for readers, since they're the ones with the money. That said, who did I write for before? I guess I was striving toward my own ideal of a well-written book. Yet I don't think I was writing for myself. So there may be another illusive category there. Not exactly art for art's sake, but something like that.

Heff said...

Isn't striving to impress the critics simply called "Selling Out" ?

Charles Gramlich said...

Etain, are you calling me human? I think I resent that remark. lol.

Candy, maybe there is another category. Or, I think, maybe you were combining more than one category.

Heff, hum, actually I don't think so. Critics certainly refer to selling out as targeting the lowest common denominator, which would be the "reader," I think. That's an intersting point, though. Selling out might be partly due to a change in the audience someone, band or writer, wants to reach.

BernardL said...

It's hard for me to imagine a writer, even for a critique group, writing for any other reason than to entrance the audience with plot, characters, and dialogue. Did that happen often in the groups you participated in, Charles?

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernardl, I believe it happened quite a bit, although entrancing fellow writers is not always at opposite poles from entrancing readers. I believe that almost always in critique groups there is some slight change in the writer's style and subject matter to please his fellow critique members.

ARCHAVIST said...

I may be strane but I just know if I'm enjoying a story that I'm writing then its cool. Someonne else is bound to like it.

Marsha said...

I want to tell a good story, something people will enjoy reading. Feedback is nice. Getting advice is nice and can be beneficial. Someday I want someone to say "Nicely done."

jennifer said...

As a reader only, I find your post fascinating. Things that I had never considered.

Have a nice weekend Charles.

Barbara Martin said...

When I begin a story it is to entertain me first, and then I think about entertaining a reader audience. That is when the revision with tweaking comes in. I don't belong to a 'critique' group, but I do have 'readers' who read my manuscripts after the first draft to provide insight and comments about where I may have forgotten something.

Greg Schwartz said...

these posts are a great idea. this may be just my experience, but it seems that writers who write to impress other writers are often the ones who have the worst time taking criticism.

Charles Gramlich said...

Archavist, I think that's true for quite a few of us who write genre fiction. Since it's what we also read, we're pretty clear someone else will enjoy it if we will.

Marsha, it's definitely good to get feedback and know someone liked something you've worked on.

Jennifer, thanks, and you too.

Barbara, that's certainly how I tend to work as well. First the idea and the beginning construction has to work for me. Then I can think of the audience.

Greg, I think you're right. It seems like writing to impress critics or peers is done by writers with somewhat more fragile egos.

Robin said...

This is so enlightening! What a great discussion and it has made me think.

I used to write because I loved it (still do but...) Then through conferences I learned the business end of it and how tough it truly is.

Then my lazy butt had to (gulp) EDIT! Then I got the writer's group straight from church and I let their comments kind of influence my voice. That was dumb.

I will write what I want to and submit it to those that are readers like myself. I voraciously devour mainstream fiction...and literary fiction brings tears to my eyes at times and I hope someday to write something that can do the same...but for now, call me an entertainer and pray that someday I'll be a paid one!

As far as critics? I try to by the pulitzer winner every year. I have started "Love in the Time of Cholera" 4 times, can't get through it. I loved "The Reader" and I love most of the classics...but I have faced up to the fact that I will not dazzle the 'literati' or the illuminated intellectuals; who cares?

AT this point I just want to make people laugh and toss some escapist fiction at them! Well written and believable of course.

But I will no longer sit on pins and needles for one group to accept or reject...I'll leave that up to publishers to do, after running it by other readers.

That's my epiphany, I'd rather have a readers perspective than a writer's...I want to write for readers. Isn't that ANY writer's target audience?

ANNA-LYS said...

Love Your new profile pic!!!!!

Charles Gramlich said...

Robin, a reader's persepective is a handy thing to have, and a handy thing to cultivate.

Anna-lys, glad you do. Thanks.

jodi said...

I would be way to shy to write in or for a group. I'll just keep tellin' my tales to this "private" little group. Congrats on the award--you deserve it. Also, I dig the new pic!

Travis said...

I get intimidated sometimes by other writers, especially those who have been published. It's irrational, I know. Many of the writers I've come to "know" through blogs have been very approachable and full of practical and excellent advice.

But I still get intimidated.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, thanks. And yes, critique groups can be a bit intimidating at first.

Travis, I felt the same way once upon a time, but I got over it. Though I'd probably still be intimidated by really famous writers.

laughingwolf said...

i agree, charles... what they, and i, mean by that is: it's myself and my friends i want to please, first... if i do, then i know others will enjoy it as well :D

and yeah, the wider the paying readership, the more $$$... unless one book alone does the rounds :(

Barrie said...

I can certainly understand how you, even unconsciously, write for your critique group's approval. That said, I don't think it works that way with my critique group. Perhaps because we're not all targeting the same readership (romance vs mystery vs YA), we don't expect everyone in the group to like/relate to everything we write?? Just thinking this through now... anyway, I'm enjoying the series, Charles!

Barrie said...

Oh yeah, and congrats on your award!

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, At some point I'll post about feedback from those who know us as opposed to those who don't. I think there are some interesting things there.

Barrie, I think it happens generally in groups that have survived for a while. It's an evolutionary kind of thing.