Journal, Writing Discussion

Tapping the golden vein

The process of posting up fiction here has been an eye-opening experience.

What I’ve learned so far:

  1. That ideas come in an endless supply.
  2. Sometimes when all the pieces come together, alchemy happens, and greater themes emerge unintended.
  3. People can take away vastly different things from the same tale.
  4. That no one can tell the difference between when a story was easy to write, and when it was difficult.
  5. That I’m the worst judge of what people will like.

Speaking of  number 5, most of the time I feel like I’m blind. I have no idea if a story will be successful when I’ve written it. Some of the time, I’m satisfied with what I’ve produced. Other times I don’t really like it at all, but I’ll post it up or send it out anyway.

More often than not, the stories I don’t feel strongly about, or I think were the most badly written, get the most positive attention. Some of the feedback here boggles my mind (Thank you! It’s amazing to get any kind of feedback so quickly, bad or good, I appreciate it all) and I have to scratch my head and wonder, huh? They liked that?

I’m trying to understand why this happens. Is it because I’m not so focused on controlling the story, that the randomness, that alchemy, has freedom to happen? Is it because what I enjoy may be too personal or particular to appeal on a wide scale? Or is it because, by some accident, I managed to tap into a deeper level of story?

I’ve encountered a few writers whose experience mirrors my own. That stories they never expected to sell, are sold first. It’s like digging for gold, finding something that sparkles, but not knowing if it’s gold or pyrite.

I wonder if it gets any easier, if one day I’ll know the difference. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to keep sending my stories out into the world blindly.

Does this happen to you too?

14 Comments

  1. Those are 5 very, very important, insightful lessons. #1 especially.

    For the most part, I think I’ve come to understand what *I* feel like when I’m writing something good. It’s not that I feel a “muse” or anything — it’s just that I feel something in me reacting to the words, sculpting them with sure hands.

    But like you said, that’s not the *only* time you can produce good stuff. Sometimes drudgery turns out fantastic stuff.

    For me, it’s when I’m working on big pieces (like chapters of my novel) that I can get a little lost or unsure of quality. I might think a chapter is great, but then someone will point out that a certain scene is totally unnecessary or not working. That’s where my meter still falls short sometimes.

    1. “I think I’ve come to understand what *I* feel like when I’m writing something good.” I still need to figure that out. For the most part I know when something is decent/passable, but past that point I think I tend to confuse the bliss of writing for ‘success’, and that’s not the same thing.

  2. Yah. Good thoughts. Similar experience: I had a hook that I was belaboring over for a while for my query letter (ah, that’s my life these days…). I sent out an email to several peers for review with different options, and the one I really liked was the one that was unpopular. 🙁 Which was sad, but I think I’m happier with it than the one I have now (Which was a combination of the one everyone else liked, and the one I liked). So, yah. Writing brings out weird things in people. -j.p.

    1. Good to see I’m not the only one that’s encountered this. It is kind of weird isn’t it? It doesn’t just happen with writing either. It’s good that you have peers you can trust with a review. I’m still looking for a few. 🙂

      1. That “Alchemy” as you call it happens so much though! Something strange coming from the recesses of my mind!
        >>Maybe this has happened to you: You’re writing a novel and about a half a year through, you realize that someone you’re writing about is someone you know. Like, except for a couple variations, they’re an exact replica?! And you haven’t noticed before?

        But of course maybe that’s disjointed… lol

      2. I love it when that happens. It’s always unexpected too. I wonder if it’s the subconscious driving that along, or maybe the sum just turns out greater than it’s parts?

        The character thing hasn’t happened to me yet hehe.

  3. Lua

    I’m with you on #5! I’m the worst judge ever- I have no idea what people would like or why they would like it. When I’m writing a story, I have no idea even if I’ll like it 🙂 It’s a bit hit & miss kind of experience isn’t it? Not to mention so much fun!

    I have no idea if this will get easy or not over time, right now it feels like I’m blindfolded, trying to find my way with my hands, and hands being people who read and comment on my work.

  4. #5 is the real sticking point, isn’t it? On the one hand, if you’re not writing something you like, then what’s the point in writing it at all? On the other, if your goal is (as mine is) to make money or even a living by writing (or at least to supplement a living-making) then you kind of have to find out what it is that others like and write that.

    Ultimatley, all we can hope is that, in classic Venn-diagram format, that there’s a nice overlap of “what you want to write” and “what other people want to read”.

    1. Ahh well, I always write what I like, or I wouldn’t write at all, but yes I’m always hoping for an overlap in the diagram – and that’s the thing. I’m hoping, without really knowing!

      Really I wish I could analyze and understand the end product a little better – but multiple revisions down the line, I start to lose that for what’s great and what’s decent.

  5. Hmm, I don’t know about that. I find that if I don’t believe wholeheartedly in my story, its value and worth, then I probably won’t finish it anyway. To get me to that point, I really have to put a lot of thought and effort into shaping the tale to get it how I like it. I guess I figure that anything I put that much heart into will “sell,” or at least appeal to readers in some way.

    You must have confidence in yourself and your project, otherwise you are doomed to failure. Of course, being a writer means you lack confidence by default, so it’s something you have to work on over time. Also, it comes from within — not from feedback and validation. YOU must believe in it. Period, end of story.

    1. But how to build that confidence, without knowing if you’re doing well? How to avoid slipping over into arrogance, or unfounded confidence?

      I suppose that’s the curse of the perfectionist, always striving towards something unachievable. There’s the story I want to tell in my head, but I can’t always get the story into words in a way that does it justice. I try my best though. I believe in the story – always – just not my execution of it. But maybe, “my best” is all I can really strive for?

    2. Oh, I agree that you have to believe in (or love, as I would put it) what you’re writing. That’s the whole point of writing in the first place: writing what you love and hoping someone else likes it almost as much as you do.

      But from a more formalized business perspective, if indeed making money is a goal, you also have to at least consider what is salable. There might certainly be a market for something if you’ve put your heart and soul into it. But it’s at least a little useful to understand why one thing sells and another does not. Sometimes it’s related to the quality merits. Those can be addressed in rewrites. Sometimes it’s something more intrinsic to the story. That’s a harder nut to crack.

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