Monday, March 18, 2013

Write like no one is reading?



I have a confession: I’m neurotic.
yup, neurotic like I've been staring at the eclipse...

What do you mean you already knew? Oh, right, because I’m a writer. Okay. Well, it’s true. Sometimes writing has me seesawing between the pits of despair and egomania. I’m always looking for ways to shore up the crazies as I write, and lately I’ve been struggling with audience. Not who they are, mind you, but that there could conceivably be many. I know, that’s sort of crazy because I’m a writer and having tons of people read my stuff is sort of the whole reason for writing in the first place. But when I think about those hungry masses waiting for my (not yet written, signed, or contracted book) it’s sort of intimidating.

I know, talk about first world problems, but this is what gets me up early to start pounding away at the keyboard. This is completely neurotic because no one can know what path they will take. For instance, even if my query bait gets the attention of an agent, there's no guarantee it'll go any further than an agent's in box. That's publishing, the harsh cruel truth of publishing. So my imaginary reader problem could be a many many years into the future problem.

But that problem is hurting me now. My guess is because writing has to come from somewhere deep. You can’t just write fluff. There’s plenty of fluff out there, but I’m not interested in writing those books. I want to write books that give people something (wow, I really sound conceited there). So how do I keep in mind the whole reason I write, and yet keep the intimidating possible future readers at bay?

There’s an old saying:

Work like you don’t need the money
Dance like no one is watching
Love like you’ve never been hurt

It’s good advice, but it’s hard to apply to writing. I mean would that be "Write like no one is reading"? Let me tell you, I would write very differently if I were the only person ever to read. I would probably write nothing but Mary-Sue fan fic where the MC was an only slightly veiled version of myself. And our plucky heroes would always win by some crafty bit of almost magic that wasn’t revealed until the second to last chapter.

Okay, that would be too boring even for me, but the point is, we tell stories for other people. It’s to communicate something (sometimes just a fun story full of escapism, mind), so how to keep readers in mind without letting them drive us into a darkened, nonthreatening space?

Liz over at Myself without the shell told me about the one person. Pick one person in the world who you’re writing for. Just one. Then the hoards of readers don’t seem so intimidating. You’re not writing for them, you’re writing for that One Reader.

I couldn’t think of anyone good, so I picked an author I’ve enjoyed. That’s not really going to work out in the long run. Just imagine how crushing it would be if your One Reader was a real person who then read your books and didn’t like them. Yikes! So I immediately took this author and I extrapolated them into an imaginary person.

Now my imaginary reader, let’s call this person the Alpha Reader provides a certain amount of comfort. When I’m in a bind I just ask myself “What would Alpha Reader enjoy?”

Usually the answer is to blow something up.

I like explosions too, so I think this new method might really work for me.

What about you? Do you have an Alpha Reader? Do you keep your Alpha Reader a secret? I’m embarrassed to admit that mine may be inappropriate because I’ve never even met said author. (and again, how embarrassing if said author ever did read it and didn’t like it. Talk about awkward!)

20 comments:

  1. I like the idea of making this person imaginary. Like an ideal of who people really are. Because like you said, the real life person could hate what you wrote. Or even if they like what you wrote but think you could have handled those were-seahorses better, it's still sort of crushing.

    So imaginary! Yes! Someone who will always cheer you on and tell you you're brilliant!

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    1. I like to imagine my imaginary-but-based-on-a-real-person alpha reader cheering me on. It makes me a little floaty in the head.

      But enough dreaming about imaginary accolades, it's time to get back to writing!

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  2. I do have an alpha reader--my sister. Of course, she always tells me when the plot is stupid. Thanks. Sheesh. But honestly, I've read several books that were self published where the author was totally in love with the story but the writing stank. I think there are several things that make a story pop, but the most important thing is that you love what you've written.

    I also think reading a TON is the key to figuring out how to connect with your audience. The more I read, the more I tire of certain written aspects and hunger for others. The books that stay with me the most are the ones that have deep themes.

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    1. Oh yeah, my mom is like that for me. She absolutely destroys a manuscript if it isn't good. It's pretty funny, everyone always says "But it's your Mom, of course she liked it." Nope, if you ask for honesty, she gives it to you.

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  3. That makes sense. I do something similar, only the person I'm writing for is me. I'm very hard to please, so I have to work hard :-)

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    1. If I had to live up to perfectionist me, I don't think I'd ever write anything! I'd be too scared.

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  4. I try not to get to wrapped up in perfection for my first draft. I've been critiqued enough to know that I'm never going to be one of those writers who can throw something out there and it's awesome the first time around. Some people can, but not me :)

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    1. Yeah, I'm definitely not a perfect the first time around writer. It just ain't gonna happen. I'm rapidly approaching having rewritten every word of my novel, so I'm definitely not the awesome out the gates writer.

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  5. My alter ego always manages to pull a "cyber-rabbit" out of his hat in order to save his skin.

    My wife provides a reality/smoothality check on plot lines and that I sufficiently explain how/why some technology works for "average Joe reader" to understand clearly.

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    1. Yeah, I have an "average Joe reader" too. It's really helpful when I start going on about partial melting, and mafic magmas. That's when I usually get the big red X on my manuscripts.

      I love the cyber-rabbit, that's awesome.

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  6. I've thought about this too. I'll have to try the one imaginary reader and see if it works. ;0)

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    1. The imaginary reader is fun because they don't put a ton of pressure on you. The key is to not let them turn into the drill sergeant. They can get sort of "You call this writing! Drop and give me thirty!" if you let them. Just know that's what happens when you're stupid little voice possesses them.

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  7. I'm a little scared. Have you been reading my mind? Prior to publication, I wrote stories I wanted to read. No more thought to it than that. I was in my own little bubble. Then they got published and I got reader feedback and it hit me...people were reading and responding to my books.

    I owe it to people to give them their money's (and time) worth. Still working through that pressure.

    (And I do have an Alpha...I jokingly call her my alpha because she is a super sweet lady who would love the phone book if I asked her to read it. She keeps me going. Then my betas are highlight wielding nit pickers who help me clean it all up.)

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    1. Yes, I am reading your mind.

      Okay, I only wish I could be a telepath (think about how many times people think "OMG this dress makes me look terrible" and you'll know why most people wouldn't want to be a telepath).

      I think that it's just the dark underbelly of being in a profession that is so insular, and yet so public. You spend all these hours working along on a manuscript, and then you lay yourself bare in front of your readers.

      It's scary. But it's also universal.

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  8. When I’m in a bind I just ask myself “What would Alpha Reader enjoy?” Usually the answer is to blow something up.

    Classic. I'm gonna have to try the 'one reader' approach.

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    1. I mean really, who couldn't use another explosion? I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  9. Very thought-provoking post! My alpha reader is my husband, because he's the most logical and reasonable person I know, and I sometimes struggle with making sure my characters do things that are believable. So, I keep him in mind when I write, and I think to myself, "Would he believe this? Would he tell me this makes sense?"

    As an unpublished author, I worry about invisible, not-yet-existent readers, too. Mostly because I'm shy, and I can't even fathom more than 15 people reading a manuscript of mine. But I'll have to deal with that worry if/when it's time.

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    1. I have a hard time imagining more than 15 people reading my manuscripts too. In fact, I still sort of hyperventilate when people other than my mother say they like my book.

      I'm working on that.

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  10. Stephen King talks about having your one reader, too. (His is his wife.) I guess I don't really think about that much. Maybe I should? My zombie book it was my husband, but that's because it really was just for him. :)

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    1. Yes, I've heard that about Stephen King. I don't like his books, but I have to admit, he has a fantastic take on writing. I admit that I often write for my mom. She has some pretty exacting tastes, but I decided I needed a stranger, because I hate saying things like "but my mom LOVED it."

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