I’ve reflected on this for some time. I’ve come to the conclusion that the main source of my hesitation derives from feeling way out of my comfort zone. Put me in front of a classroom and I’m in my element (at least if I know what I’m teaching). Let me run in a race and I know I won’t wind up last. Place me in charge of a committee and I’ll be efficient and effective. But as a writer I feel I’m at the bottom of the totem pole.
And I’m just plumb scared of opening myself to criticism of my endeavors. Not a great attitude for learning.
But it’s more than just that. I know how I am when dealing with an expert in a subject in which I feel less knowledgeable. A plumber, for example, or musician or gardener. Or a professional writer.
Here’s my problem. When someone makes a suggestion about my writing, my immediate reaction is to assume I’m wrong and to change what I’ve done to reflect the criticism. Because I think that person knows more than I. But when I’ve responded in the manner recommended, I’ve often been disappointed with the result. Is it just stubbornness, or could my own approach actually have been the better? I’m not sure I know.
I’m reminded of a critique that was the result of a review by an “experienced” author that came with one of my self-publishing packages. I did wonder, by the way, if this “expert” was so successful, why he or she was spending time evaluating the bumbling works of a bunch of hacks.
This review blasted me for not properly observing the rules for “point of view.” As I understand it, that means in any one scene, or maybe any one chapter, or maybe even an entire book, only one character’s view is expressed using one of first, second or third person mode. I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of the concept. I asked a high school English teacher friend who said of course they studied point of view in her class.
So I tried to follow the rule, rewriting large portions of my criticized book. Most of the time that seemed the natural approach, and I did learn from the exercise and consider it seriously in my current writing. But there were occasions when it seemed desirable and natural to switch between two or more points of view in the same scene. And I couldn’t understand why that was such a sin. Especially when I found Nora Roberts doing it in one of her books. And especially since an online column by a fellow named Jerry Jenkins said J. K. Rowling “gloriously breaks this rule.” So, in my ignorance, or I suppose some could say stupidity, I did not and do not worry about the evil of nonobservance.
I have read books about writing by Pat Conroy and Stephen King. I gather from both that I began my career about 70 years too late in life. One mentioned, and I can’t remember which one, that he was not enamored with writing groups. So that’s my excuse for not following the advice of one of my mathematical colleagues. He writes science fiction. Been doing it for years and is quite good. He told me about his participation in a group where people read their work and receive criticism. I see him once a year now, at our department’s annual holiday party. He never fails to encourage me to come to his group, although after more than a decade of importuning I think he’s realizing it’s probably not going to happen.
So I guess I’m just going to muddle through, learning from reading the works of the truly talented and trying my best. To some extent it’s working. I think I’m getting better.
And when in doubt I pull out the following justification used to legitimize all sorts of bad behavior over the centuries: If one functions only according to rules, how can innovation occur?