Getting a little distance

It’s your mother, isn’t it? It’s usually our mothers.

But it can be anyone, and why is it so easy to believe the bad stuff? This post will be about writing, yet our whole lives are built around what others might think or what we think of ourselves.

I’ve discussed before how personal writing is, but, today, I’m going to illustrate that from my writing. This is from Brother Mine:

Mal finally stopped responding. She merely processed the room. It was how she handled strong emotion. She took in details; the terror on Adame’s face that she might have something else to say, her sister’s horror and shock, the tick tick of an antique grandfather clock in the corner. It was a humbling moment.

“It seems fairly simple,” she said, biting back the emotions pressing on her. “Regardless of my skills or my purpose in life, you’ve reduced me to an expediency. Rather the same way humans have treated your people.” She backed away from him. “You know what, assassin? I’ll handle myself from here on. You find your own way.”

Prior to this paragraph, Adame, an assassin, calmly and without thinking expresses the businesslike way the guild views Mal’s life and her sister’s life. The sister is a wealthy socialite and a journalist. She would be missed and likely trigger payback of some kind for the guild. Mal was only alive today because that sister loved her. Her pain at that realization is the first paragraph.

This is my response to pain. I tend to shut down. I’m one of those women who are deadly if they get quiet. In fact, the quieter the worse things have gone for someone. There’s some part of me in all of that, but the character herself isn’t much like me at all.

Criticism of our writing can feel harsher than it is meant to feel because of this very phenomenon. Some authors respond badly to criticism of their writing because it feels like criticism of themselves when it really isn’t.

Your editor or reviewer doesn’t know which of the parts of your book are more personal than others. You’ll hear people telling you to get a thicker skin, but thick skin is just a way to politely say someone has a tough hide. I’m not convinced that toughness has to mean we don’t feel. (I do not advocate taking crap from anyone. If you have professionals in your life that can’t be polite. Fire them, yesterday.)

Instead, I suggest getting clinical about things. The question isn’t whether something we’ve written is valid or invalid. It’s all valid. That doesn’t matter at all. It only matters if it’s necessary or meaningful to our story in some way. That’s what we have to ask.

Why did I put this here?

In the case above, I wanted to illustrate, hang a lantern on, the wrongness of the world I was building. That needed to be written out more plainly so the reader wouldn’t downplay the effect this world’s trauma had on the characters you’re reading.

My need to shut down is based in trauma, and it’s a reaction I understand completely. It’s also a reaction that should say something about the next paragraph where she’s letting him know just how shit that indifferent view of life is. In this world, people are commodities. It’s dehumanizing, and that’s what I wanted to convey.

My point is this: Writers have to make decisions about their writing. Ultimately, you decide what you’re willing to put in that book, and those decision can and will be questioned at length if you get any reads at all.

We can look at this in the following ways:

  • As an opportunity to grow
  • As a chance to advocate for our point of view
  • As the absolute end of the world. Our writing is disgusting and we should never be allowed near a laptop again!

Your assignment today is:

Look at something you’ve written with your own critical eye and make a list of improvements you can make, AS WELL AS, things you like about it. Do not browbeat your muse. She’s trying to help you.

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