When was the last time that you wrote without worry? I mean really wrote without hearing the naysayers, critics and self doubt in your head. If you’re an everyday writer, then it’s probably been a while. But why is that? Regrettably, a big part of it almost certainly has to do with the writing world today, and the emphasis it puts on book ratings, author critiques and reader reviews. It’s become so bad that for some writers, doing what they love also means having a nervous breakdown. But allow me to send out a plea to all of the bloggers, novelists and poets out there. This isn’t how it should be. We should be thrilled to write. We should be hungry to start our next piece, thinking about it while cooking breakfast or trying to get some sleep. Maybe it’s time for a change. Maybe it’s time for us… to get back to the basics.
I first started writing when I was just a boy, no older than nine or ten. I was one of those weird kids who was obsessed with comic books and spooky monsters, and decided that it was about time for someone to combine the two. I constantly wrote short stories and drew pictures about the misadventures of my favorite ghouls and ghosts as they tried to save the world while dealing with the pain of being a misunderstood. Back then it was simple. Someday, I’d give my homemade penny dreadfuls to Stan Lee or R.L. Stein, and they’d shake my hand and say, “Justin, I want you to write for me. When can you start?”
As time passed and high school struck, I continued to follow my favorite horror authors, getting into classics like Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King. But this was a confusing era, and my writing had been put on a brief hold for more “palpable” desires. After the girl craze passed, I delved back into writing, this time for my friends. I started to pen roleplaying campaigns for the guys, telling tales of eerie dungeons and nightmarish crypts for their roleplaying pleasure. The joy it brought both them, and myself, was enough for me to decide that someday I’d write professionally.
Then college came. I majored in English, concentrating in Creative Writing at a downtown university. I’d write whenever I could find time, mostly after night shifts or on the early train to school. While my professors mostly enjoyed my work, it was the first time I’d begun receiving critiques. I don’t recall ever being offended, but it was confusing to hear teachers occasionally suggest toning down the weirdness. What I also didn’t foresee was that these opinions were only the first steps towards the inevitable…self-doubt.
Cue my mid-twenties. I was in love. My fingers wouldn’t stop typing sentimental poetry and short stories involving the woman of my dreams (who would one day become my wife, score!). Later, with her encouragement, I’d convinced myself to take a serious stab at becoming an author. After several months, and with the connection of a family member, I handed my manuscript to an editor. The results, well, were not so much what I’d been hoping for.
But as tough as the criticism was, I needed it. After taking a few months off, I jumped back on the horse with new fervor and tales to tell- one of those being Consumed. For years I concentrated on the book, bleeding over my computer. I’d share my work with respected family and friends. Their assessments were constructive, but as expected, sometimes tough to swallow. Finally though, after several serious edits, the manuscript was complete. After sending it off to dozens of publishers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had several takers, and in early 2014, signed with Zharmae Publishing. My first novel was born.
But getting your manuscript published opens you up to another world, one that involves marketing and promoting. I began doing my research, and found that sites like Amazon.com and Goodreads had some real tough critics. I read unnecessarily harsh reviews about my favorite books, some of the best of all time, and it scared the hell out of me. Who was I to think that I wouldn’t receive similar disapproval? No one wants to read a horror novel about a drug-addicted detective investigating a mysterious murder. Come October, it would be the end of my writing career. I was doomed.
Then it hit me. Call it a bitch slap from God or life’s cup of morning coffee, but I’d finally awoken from the anxiety driven stupor I’d put myself through. I’d been so crushed by the weight of what people might think, that I’d completely forgotten why I started doing it in the first place. It wasn’t to become the most popular author of all time or make tons of money. No way. I didn’t want to be trendy. I wanted to write bizarre and interesting stories as I’d done as a kid. I wanted to honor the horror novels I loved in high school. I wanted to make people happy like I did when I wrote for my friends. I wanted to be myself again, free of any worry.
Perhaps it was Paulo Coelho who put it best when he said, “I write from my soul. This is the reason that critics don’t hurt me, because it is me. If it was not me, if I was pretending to be someone else, then this could unbalance my world, but I know who I am.”
It may sound strange not cater to readers, but you’re honestly doing them a disservice by not writing from the heart. Readers can pick up on someone who is writing scared. I know I can. Instead, write for yourself and let the reader fill in the blanks. I think that you’ll find that far more people appreciate your work (even the critics) when you do it this way. Hell, maybe you can even apply this “apologize to no one” attitude to the rest of your life. Wouldn’t that be nice?
So writers, please, keep doing what you do. I beg of you. Don’t make the mistakes I did. Write those great blogs, short stories and novels, worry free. Keep penning what makes you happy and everything else will fall in place. It’s time that we put away our fears of the critics. It’s time for us to get back to the basics.