I have a small sphere of influence in my life. Viewed within the big picture, this sphere isn’t even qualified to rank as miniscule. Nothing famous or infamous (presently) about me. My life isn’t nor has it been boring, at least not according to me which is what counts since it’s “my” life. And anyone who visits here and sometimes elsewhere knows I have opinions. To put it mildly. Please smile.
I worked in the horse racing industry for over 30 years, starting as a lowly groom and then many years later on to assisting my husband as we trained the beautiful and courageous Thoroughbreds. By the time we said a difficult goodbye to the industry which had been our “home” for so long, we were well-versed in the training and care of race horses, but were we “experts”? No, I don’t think so, the reason being that from the conditioning standpoint to the veterinary, shoeing, and nutritional concepts, each animal has different needs and requirements. Certainly the basics can be learned sufficiently, but with horses, unless you truly understand their “nature” and individuality, you tend to treat them all the same. And while that worked for some, it certainly did not work for others. I don’t know that I ever met or would be willing to bestow an “expert” title to anyone in the sport. But I’m that way. I think humans are imperfect, and while some excel and should be admired and respected for their accomplishments, others succeed in less than scrupulous ways and ultimately deserve no accolades for their methods even though their “success” is given acclaim.
So . . . bringing it around to writing. Those of you who’ve traveled through this blog and others’ blogs with me have become accustomed to my feelings, claims, and opinions about writing novels. No one would call me a professional, an expert, or even a person of influence. There is nothing to establish me as such. But you also know I am inarguably a writer, an author even. Seven completed novels, two self-published. If you’ve read my work, you can volunteer the opinion that I’m a lousy or mediocre or terrible or boring or gifted, insightful, thoughtful, or touching writer. You could hate my work or love it or diss it or laud it. You could be right or you could be wrong.—according to others who’ve experienced the pages of my books.
And here’s the thing. While I believe there are experts in book production—that being the technical, physical aspects of typesetting, etc., and marketing, and cover design, each “expert” in these fields cannot create failsafe perfect creations. You have only to read any novel today and in spite of all the “eyes” which proof and copy-edit the manuscripts and texts, typos are present in almost every single novel produced. Hard to figure but true. You have only to view marketing efforts which do not work for you at all, which in fact make you despise a product even before you’ve sampled it, to know that this “expert” has failed as far as you’re concerned. And almost every cover, no matter how beautifully or cleverly done, will undoubtedly cause someone to, yes, hate it. So much for “expertise” producing desired results.
I bring all this up to say that “the arts” as so many like to call them are matters of the heart. And being that our ability to design, create, entertain, or produce something that pertains to any or all of that arty stuff is influenced by such diverse places, backgrounds, environments, and frameworks enough to stretch the imaginations of each individual involved in the production of whatever it is they choose to share, a judgment of the product seems unfair. The actual ability to create is God-given—and how He determines to supply an individual with the knowledge required to effectively “create” is up to Him.
Therefore, the “expert” is God. The opinions of His people’s (or anyone’s) creations are subjective and as varied as the individuals who’ve created them—in this case: novels.
Please understand this: there are those who are qualified to examine and evaluate literature because they are gifted and skilled in specific areas, have an eye to pull more drama or comedy or irony from an author’s story with a few quick word changes or the addition or elimination of paragraphs, chapters, or tweaks in plot or characters. They can spot those tiny inconsistencies an author has perhaps missed, the peripheral event that needs a little more or a little less of something an author has overlooked. Their motivation is to make the story the best it can be. Some are able to do this easily, and others not so much. People ordain them to be “experts”, but really they’re just professionals doing what they’ve learned to do and believe will work based on their own concepts of “success”, not to mention their own opinions.
Because of this subjectivity, writers will often read the words “Not a good fit for us” in their rejection notices. Each agent, editor, and/or publisher has a particular product desire. Some call it a “niche market”, and in certain cases they’re correct. But not all publishers even in the CBA are solely concerned with this particular customer. Some houses want to expand their “clientele” and are moving away from or toward another type of reader. Maybe with glacial advancement or even with unsteady movement, but they’re pressing on to captivate a new market or enchant a previously distant reader.
What you might glean from all of this is that I think everyone can create “art” in their writing or shouldn’t be criticized for what they do. Nope. Not saying that. What I’m trying to convey here is that personal opinions follow a novel from submission to production. If an agent thinks they can sell your piece, if an editor thinks they can convince a pub board it will sell, and if the pub board all agree, including those who will attempt to market the book, and if enough people want to read it and buy it and give it a good report, there will still be others who don’t warm up to it. You simply can’t please everyone. I have read pieces of unpublished people’s work which had some basic writing skills with a few very good parts in it, but the whole was atrocious. Bad. Unworthy in its current state to become a book. However, I have also read a few books back in the day of secular reading which were horrific. Bad. Unworthy to be a book, yet there it was. And in my large perusal of CBA reading, I’ve read a few very mediocre novels which I felt quite honestly wasted my time.
I know this is a long post that begs the title question, “Who cares?” The long point of this expose is the laughable assessment of the “absolutes” as to what works in writing novels and what doesn’t. Two opinions about the same book clash and differ drastically at times. How can you compare authors of literary fiction to authors of chick-lit novels? Each serves a purpose and rarely shall those who prefer the one ever agree with those who love the other, and even within the same categories and genres, people find their favorites and reject those that others covet. Each type of novel is written in a different way with a different focus. Not very many men will search the romance section for just the right novel for themselves. There are some women who can’t suffer through a thriller or mystery without having nightmares. Yet some women love murder mysteries and suspense stories and some men enjoy historical romance. Again, the novels are written with different styles, methods, and voices which will ultimately appeal to different types of readers, all with not only their own preferences but their own opinions as to what works the best for them.
While I would agree that some authors make great teachers of how to write, very few of them can teach without their acquired opinions of what they prefer, what they use, what they like to read, and even what they believe is the “right” way to write anything. And when they do teach, they seem to do it so emphatically—along with agents, editors, and publishers. This is how you do it! If you don’t do this or if you persist in doing that: it’s bad writing. It doesn’t work. It won’t get you through a pub board. And while they may be right in saying it might not get you through a pub board, their opinions are not a universal declaration of what works for every reader. Or for every writer.
Recently after recommending unpublished writers read “the classics”, the same author admitted most of those fine writings wouldn’t stand a chance getting published today. What does that tell you? Professionals keep insisting that readers are so different today, and, yes, some of them definitely are. Part of the reason for that is the lack of having learned the value of the older novels, the beauty in unique styles, the commitment of delving into pages and pages of character development and detailed life stories. But I believe patient readers still exist and don’t have to be whipped into a frenzy within the first five pages to stay with a book. I actually am one of those readers, and I happen to know others like myself of varying ages.
So who cares? A lot of upcoming writers do. And I’m suggesting these “absolutes” should be tempered with learn the “rules”, consider the instruction, really work at refining the craft and story using the opinions of professionals, but write your own story. Some will not like it. Others will love it. Base your analysis of your work on published works in the same genre. If people are quick to point out what’s lacking in your story, consider that they needed some things you might not have conveyed to them. If they can’t find a thing wrong with it, consider the source. How trustworthy are they? Are they serious readers of novels? Make sure to write the novels you want to read so when it’s all said and done, you can be satisfied with your work.
Above all, write for the glory of God. He is the judge and jury of your work. He determines what becomes of it. He is the One who counts when it comes to your talent, your direction for it, your abilities coming to fruition. All of it belongs to Him, not you.
Who cares? God does. He ordained the writing thing. It’s His gig, and He’s sharing it with you. If you think you have a better agenda, think again.
God, your agenda is the best we can hope for regardless of where it takes us. Help us to be yielded to your intentions for us, to place our abilities in your hands so that we can be enabled to complete those things you have specifically ordained for us. Thank you, Jesus, for your closeness, for loving us as individuals and creating us with such unique workmanship. And Spirit of God, what would we do without your help? We would flounder even more than we already do. Forgive us for our self-serving ways and lead us in your ways everlasting. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
*Please continue to pray for Kristy Dykes.*