Fear and writing

Have you read 50 Shades of Grey? I haven’t. And I won’t. One of the things I’ve learned over the years of sticky-beaking at other people’s stuff (ie, house hunting) is that there are some people who only own two books – The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that the third book they’ll buy is 50 Shades.

I highly recommend Katrina Lumsden’s fabulous reviews of the 50 Shades trilogy. From now on, all book reviews should contain gifs. Go and read them, I’ll still be here. I’ll put the kettle on.

The thing that’s most frightening about all the 50 Shades reviews is they all say the same thing: the writing is terrible.

As a writer, that terrifies me.

Sure, I write here for you. I self-publish – without a sub-editor and usually without too much thought – several times a week. Oh, ok, several times a month. I have no fear of publishing here. I should have that fear. It’s permanent and here for anyone who wants to Google me (or any of these terms).

But fiction, that’s a whole other kettle of sphincter clenching.

I’ve started writing again, for the first time in about 20 years. I’m fucking rusty (ew, that sounds tetanus-y). I had to have quite a few wines (ie, get drunk) before I could show my first story to ManFriend. I know, I know, you should never ask your partner to be your Reader because they’re not going to say anything bad about your writing. But I wanted him to really like it – even though it’s not his genre – and say how awesome I am at writing. That’s a lot of pressure. Particularly as, like I said, I’m very fucking rusty.

But what if it gets published and people say, “hey, the story’s ok, but the writing is awful“? I’d be mortified. How must E.L James be feeling about what’s being said about her books? She’s sold 20 million copies, but that criticism has gotta hurt. Hurt all the way to the bank, sure, but still hurt. I can’t stop thinking about what bad reviews would feel like. (Wow, could I sound any more arrogant? It’s not like an editor’s never told me a story is shit, but I’m talking loads of bad reviews.) I’m not suggesting that reviews should only be nice. Just using the reviews to share a fear that what if I’m no good at the thing I want to do?

67 responses to “Fear and writing

  1. She probably could have used the services of a good editor. Surely not everyone else’s writing is perfect from the first draft?

  2. If you are a bad doctor people can die, if you are a bad banker they can lose their house, if you are a bad builder they can die and lose their house, if you are a bad reporter the audience can end up badly misinformed, if you are a bad fiction writer people complain about it on the internet.

    I do not think there is any shame in being a bad writer, especially if you are trying to improve. I think the best way to improve is to do more writing, show it to others and listen to their feedback.

    Whether or not bad writing sells is up to the market.

    • That’s all very true.

    • If you are bad writer who pushes the line that if you wait and suffer long enough, your abusive partner will realise how awful he is and reform and be nice to you, and people swallow it, you can do a loooot of damage. It’s more than just internet snark.

      • I don’t want to sanitise writing. I think we need to have writing on all topics and from all viewpoints. But, like you, I’m uncomfortable with this being presented as romantic, as erotic, when we have a culture that already demeans women.

        • I agree and I don’t want to sanitise writing either…I want women for whom this has revolutionised their sex lives to read a few more different things!
          There are plenty of other writers-of-kink out there that may, just may, know what they are writing about, and don’t glorify abuse. And honestly. Twilight Fan-fic? Making a story about an abusive relationship EVEN MORE ABUSIVE?
          I MEAN TO SAY.
          FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE.
          FOR THE LOVE OF MUD.
          *Throws hands in air*

        • I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey however years ago I was given a copy of The Story of O by a (female) friend .. and whilst it is/was widely considered to be well written I still felt very uncomfortable with the notion that deep down, women just want to be dominated. Strokes for folks (pardon the pun) but the book was a *huge* turn off for me. Made me feel a little sick in fact.

          As an aside, I’m sure the author of Fifty Shades of Grey would prefer critical acclaim for her book, but even if it’s getting slammed, the millions of bucks she’s making must help ease the pain. It’s like NW magazine and McDonalds, it doesn’t have to be considered “good” by the highbrows to appeal to a large audience.

          • I read The Story of O in 1998 or 1999 while in London. My memory of it – which, admittedly, isn’t very good because my memory is Swiss cheese and I’m constantly surprised by all the blank spots – is that some bits are HOT, but that the complete dominance theme, down to what to say, think and wear, made me uncomfortable. And that was in my “we don’t need feminism anymore because things are equal” days. Oh, how wrong I was.

      • If someone is actually pushing that line as real world advice, I agree. If it is something that is clearly marketed as adult fiction, I think we are in the same territory as holding people who make hot coffee responsible when someone burns themselves and people who make sharp knives responsible when someone cuts themselves.

  3. I, like you, refuse to read 50 shades of shit writing. And as someone who critiques creative writing efforts for a living, I feel I read enough bad writing in one year to justify that decision. Even if I did attempt to read it, I doubt I’d get past page 2 without the need to take up a red pen and MAKE CORRECTIONS. Bad writing depresses me. Especially published bad writing. Anyway. My favourite review of 50 shades is The Sponsored Lady http://www.sponsoredlady.com/product-review-masturbation-to-fifty-shades/

    • The Sponsored Lady always cracks me up!

      Do you get LOTS of really bad submissions, or are most ok?

      • It’s a pretty even spread from the barely literate to the exceptionally good (and it can be just as depressing reading those for entirely different reasons!). Most — good old fashioned bell curve — fall somewhere in the middle. Although this last semester, I had to sit for over 2 hours with my colleague for one CW subject and find people to mark down because we were both over quota with high distinctions and distinctions. That sucked.

        • Oh, that’s just cruel.

        • This type of mandated “assessment to the bell curve” makes me so angry. People should be assessed based on criteria, not based on how well their peers perform. (I totally understand you are just following the instructions of your institution)

          Sorry, completely unrelated to the original post… carry on…

  4. It suggests if you pick a vaguely edgy topic, you can probably write however you like. Sex sells, which means bad writing does too. If not, there’d be a lot of porno script writers out of work 😉

  5. I have this fear: I like to write. I am THREE HALF SUBJECTS SHORT OF MY COMMUNICATIONS DEGREE WITH A JOURNALISM MAJOR (I have to capitalise this, because I hand my last assignment in on August 31 and I’m rediculously excited). I think I can write.

    What if I am wrong, and I’m like those terrible singers on Australian Idol auditions whose mother thinks they’re totes awesome?

    So, my fear is of being published. Wait, no, specifically, it’s of being published and being bad! As a result, I just usually whisper how much I love writing, and every so often post a blog. Which I re-edit, delete, and re-post.

    This woman may be crap, but there are millions reading her writing. Maybe that says more about the readers than the writer.

    • Ooh, congratulations on being almost done. What’s your portfolio like? Have you got your eye on a job?

      The funny thing is, more people read this blog than would read my fiction, so the fear is pretty silly.

      • I think it’s the seperate-ness of it.
        I had to keep a blog for uni, which wasn’t nearly as difficult for me than my own blog, or actually showing someone my writing.
        An author in the US once shared advice she had received, in short “write like your mother is dead” (or, just put it all out there and dont be afraid!)

        Having said that, it’s still difficult, and I don’t think uni shapes people for the realities of such a career (You’re shocked, aren’t you?) The good news for me is that I’m not a 21 year old graduate. I’ll be 31, I knew the chances of working as a journalist were slim, and so whilst I don’t have a final career path for me, I do already have a job where every so often I get to bust out and write stuff (Boring, dry project stuff, but still, it’s mine!)

        As for my portfolio – right now it’s limited to my uni stuff and blogs. I DID get a request from someone to write some fact sheets for him for his website, which I’ll do so that I can actually have a portfolio outside of things I have done for myself!

        • I love that piece of advice! It’s hard to just put it out there, though. (Perhaps not for everyone.) I’ve had this blog for three years and it was only a few weeks ago that I posted a photo of myself.

          Anyway, the best piece of advice about journalism I can give you is to never say you’re a student. Always tell editors you’re a freelancer. If your article is good enough to publish, it’s good enough to pay for.

          • Okay, I just bought the damn thing (ebook, of course), and in between my researching censorship on this Internet and gendered violence this weekend I WILL read it.

            I feel literary-dirty already. And not in a good way.

            • Please report back. With or without gifs.

              • I shall need to do a proper analysis, but I suspect the excitement is because IT HAS SEX and women are too classy to read Mills and Boon.

                I’m at chapter six, and I have two favourite sentences. Funny enough, neither are the naughty bits! Tell me, have you EVER after a night of drinking woken up and thought “Nothing beats freshly squeezed juice for reviving an arid mouth”? I’m usually about the “ohgodImgoingtodie. Get me a panadol and find a way for me to take it by osmosis because ingesting anything will kill me!

                Also? “My medula oblongata has neglected to fire any synapses to make me breathe,” seriously.

                I will say this for the ebook version- I get to read comments people have written, and it appears they find him romantic already. I find the fact that – after she got drunk enough to vomit on herself and pass ou – he sent his minion out to buy her new clothes, underwear included, creepy as all hell. But then, I AM still single, so maybe it’s just me.

                • The pompous sentences really are a hallmark of the amateur, aren’t they? “Classic British Novel’ forsooth.
                  Ooops I may be betraying my pomposity here myself.

                  • Trying to sound like a writer, instead of being a writer.

                    • YES.
                      According to ..er…another review I read, no-one ever ‘says’ anything – they murmur, assert, reply, whisper, etc. That is also a classic criticism of writing-that-needs-a-hardcore-edit.
                      What she may need is some Doctorly Advice from Samuel Johnson –
                      ‘Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.’

                    • This is is EXACTLY!!!
                      It actually reminds me – don’t judge me! – of how I sound when I’m *trying* to write. It’s over-thought and contrived.
                      It also seems disconnected as well – the innocent virgin, seduced by the worldly man (who, incessantly, is far too beautiful for anyone to resist, all women lose the ability to speak coherently around him) seems at odds with e writing style the author is aiming for. It’s as if someone has aimed for a poetic Mills & Boon and ended up so very far off the mark. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but it’s as if a survey were done on people of what books they wanted and the answers combined in a mass of genres. I’m just waiting for a brutal murder to be written into the script as well.

                      If this is what women want – and judging by the number of women reading it for pleasure not analysis – could it be us???!!!

                    • All done – really, there’s nothing new. It’s badly (over)written and I don’t know why people are reading it. http://krjourno.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/fifty-shades-of-badly-written-porn.html

  6. One thing is for certain. You won’t get better by not writing. My advice: Fail as many times as it takes to succeed. Post a hundred terrible stories on the internet if that is what it takes. If you enjoy the process of writing, you lose nothing. You have everything to gain. If mockery and criticism come, embrace it, no matter how awful it is. Learn from it. If need be, use it as fuel to motivate you.

    Apologies If your comment was meant for NWN specifically.

  7. This note is to say that, though I’ve had a few wines tonight, and am therefore guilty of writing a bit of a gush, here, I’ve known you, Kim, for 15 years, and you’ve always been a wonderfully engaging writer to me. And do you know why? You have a quality too many lack – honesty! I think if a writer writes with integrity and intelligence, the odd blip here and there, is easily forgiven.

  8. I think my 7 year old nephew might look like kettle man when he grows up!

  9. How must E.L James be feeling about what’s being said about her books?

    Well, she’s written three of the bloody things so she can’t be feeling too crushed.

  10. I haven’t read it either and don’t plan to. 20 million copies! I don’t think she would mind the bad reviews. P.S I’m crap at heaps of things I want to do 🙂

  11. As long as nothing you write inspires the kind of reaction perfectly enacted in the Prince gif, you’ll be doing ok.

  12. I read this book to keep informed, because EVERYONE was talking about it. I think there’s a place for everything and I try to stay open-minded. Poor writing? I’ve read worse. I don’t like the premise of the books and agree that our children shouldn’t be lead to believe that this sort of relationship is the norm.They shouldn’t be reading these books in the first places. But then they watch Borat etc so the parents have a responsibility too. We have a choices as readers and we would not want censorship. I would not recommend this book to my children but if it revolutionises sex for some women, then great for them. I read to be entertained and educated. I learned from this book that sex really does sell.

  13. I think most people who are saying it’s bad writing just enjoy hating something that’s incredibly popular. LIke you, I haven’t read it, nor will read it. I’m not going to dismiss it either, because that criticism would be unfounded.

    • If you have not read it then your theory about people hating it because it is popular is also unfounded.

      • Touché, Sue. Of course it is unfounded, I was speculating.

        Sue, it’s not that I don’t believe people when they say it’s bad writing. Why would they lie? It is because I believe it is possible, that people like to make it known that they are above the hoi-polloi who are gullible enough to fall for the charms of a popular novel.

        • I think that is true. I also think that snobbery and tall poppy syndrome are often blamed as a way to deflect legitimate criticism. It makes it tricky to make assumptions about individual cases.

        • I love popular novels. I read and enjoy writers like Jilly Cooper, Katie Fforde, Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Crusie and JK Rowlings.
          But every single sentence that I have read in a review of Fifty Shades has made me wince. I don’t think I am ‘above’ people who read popular novels. But I *do* think that Fifty Shades sounds like rubbish.

  14. There’s something that’s bugged me about this, and it’s taken me days to work out, and I think it boils down to this (um… unintentional *kettle pun*)… Popular fiction works with different logics and practices than literary writing. 50SoG is popular in it’s production in every way. So arguments about it are often are actually genre critiques, not about it in and of itself, etc. However, almost because of it’s supreme popularity it’s being reviewed from other genre logics and practices and found wanting. Apples, oranges, yada yada, taste cultures. Reading Ken Gelder’s 2004 Popular Fiction was the eye-opener for me.

  15. As a youngster when I read a bit of PP (paperporn) the action scenes worked for me, but the set ups were tedious. “Hey, I could out-write this”, I said….. and so I did. The resulting work was at least as good an anything I had read, and possible better, if grammar and punctuation are your thing. But the “work” was embarrassing. Not the subject matter, the piece as a whole was something I would not own. I suspect porn/erotica has difficulties becoming art. If it manages to, that’s interesting, if not, it is just more dreck. I will die having not read the 3 books you mention, and a few more I suspect. The pleasure I have received from not reading this book but knowing of it deserves some thanks and acknowledgement. A ‘Best Repeller” List?

  16. drsusancalvin

    The arousal might best be written as a series of peaks, rather than a high plateau. And, perhaps it’s not as hard as say, a mystery. At least you don’t have to worry about letting the reader know “who done it”….

  17. You may have a point about E.L. James. But 50 Shades started as a Twilight fanfiction, and everyone knows how bad fanfiction can be. She’s just one of that number.

    One of that number who, rarely, actually sold her fanfiction as a original work. That’s the fantasy of a lot of fanfic writers. And I think that’s a major thing to consider in all this. Either she listens to all those bad reviews, or she takes pride in the fact that she achieved something precious.

    I don’t think you’re a particularly bad writer. Not on this blog, anyway. And I nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award, by the way. http://littlewonder2.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/one-lovely-blog-award-nominee/

  18. I’m new to this blog, so have only read a few of your posts, but I love your writing style! I love your humorous approach to complex issues. I will definately be following from now on!

    Good luck with the novel.

  19. Write a book already! Do it for the fans if not for the fame 😉

  20. Quirky! I’m yet to go to the CBD but I have been staying in some friendly suburbs with blues bars and cafes. So far it’s cheap and small, the pancakes are tall and the soda is sweet. Too tall and too sweet it’s ridiculous.

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