As I make friends with more and more writers, I am often left appalled by the stories they have shared with me of their experiences, and how often they have been beaten down by the well-intentioned (or perhaps not at all well-intentioned) advice of people theoretically helping them perfect their craft. Sometimes friends, sometimes critique partners, etc. Everyone has an opinion on how your work would be better written:
- Your writing has too much exposition (your writing needs more description.)
- Your writing is too dark and unsettling (your writing is too bland and nice.)
- Your characters should be nicer (your characters have no conflict.)
- There’s not enough action (there’s not enough discussion.)
- etc., etc.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it? How many people are telling us that we’re doing it wrong? And I watch, I watch as people who really want to be better writers twist and contort to please these critical voices, only to scream in frustration as someone else comes along and tells them that they should do exactly the opposite. I watch as people follow instruction after instruction until they are left with a tangled mess of a manuscript that doesn’t work on any level because it’s trying to please too many masters, all at once.
I will share a hard lesson I have learned: not everyone is going to love your book.
While one can argue that you’re only writing a book for yourself, that’s probably not true. Most writers want to share their stories. On some level, we have an idea of the sort of people who might enjoy our work, even if it’s just as vague as, ‘someone like me.’ For example: I don’t expect that an MRA red pill dudebro is probably going to like my Godslayer Cycle series. Sure, it’s epic fantasy, but it has some strong ideas about toxic masculinity and consent. I didn’t write the book for them.
Let’s put this in a different context. A lot of relationship advice says that in a strong relationship, one partner doesn’t try to change the other to suit their own preferences, but encourages their partner to grow into the best person they can be. I feel this is also true of writers. A good critique partner tries to help you become the best writer you can be, not change how you write to suit their own whims.
I don’t need or even want my friends to write like I do.
I want them to write like themselves–to be the best of their ability.