This is something I think every writer asks themselves once in a while. Usually, while we’re writing a story, the words flow nicely and the scenes seem to ease from one into another with no real effort at all. The story is vibrant in our minds, and we see and feel everything our characters do. Time is suspended while we’re in our world and watching things unfold as the story progresses.
And then we finish the story, have it edited, and publish it. I don’t know how many writers out there start to question the story once it’s released into the world, but I do with just about every book I’ve ever done. Did I give the characters the story they deserved? Did I leave something out that should have been in the plot? Did I add something in the plot that was unnecessary? Was the story too short? Was it too long? Did I rush something? Did I let something drag on too long? In other words, “Is the story good enough?”
There are many things a writer can doubt about their work. It’s hard to remember what made the story so awesome when we were writing it as we get further away from it. This is why I think it’s good for us to go back and reread our stories from time to time. Of all the people who ever read our books, we should be the most excited to be wrapped up the worlds we created. But try not to read the story as an editor. Read it for enjoyment.
Will there be things you see that you wouldn’t do today? Probably, but these are often small things like word choice, a way to better explain something, or a certain detail you know would be a better fit. In cases like this, I think you should take that as a sign of growth as a storyteller. I wouldn’t bother going back and fixing it. When you get enough books out into the world, there’s simply not enough time in the day to tweak old books. The best use of your time is to keep producing new work because writing new stuff is the best way to fine tune our storytelling abilities.
So when you notice those things that could have been better in the old stories, think of this as an indication that you are a much stronger storyteller today than you used to be. It’s a sign of success. Even with some hiccups in a past story that you pick up, you should still get enjoyment from reading your stories. This is why you should read them as a reader. You spent a lot of time writing it and polishing it up to get it published. Why not sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor?
Thankfully, how well a book sells or doesn’t sell is independent of the emotional satisfaction you have when you go back and reread the story. Some of the books I enjoy most are the ones that barely sold at all. Sometimes when you publish a book and realize very few people want to buy it, it’s easy to think the story sucks. The truth is, a lot of amazing stories out there aren’t getting the sales they really deserve. I don’t know why this is. But this idea that only good stories are big sellers is a myth. Just because a story is good, it doesn’t mean it’ll sell well. In the end, if you got pleasure from your own story, it is a good story. I don’t care what anyone else says. You are the only person whose opinion is worth listening to when it comes to your work. If you reread your story and love it, it is good enough.
Through the years, when reading about authors, whose books I’ve loved, and books I’ve had to read in class, I have read similar expressions of doubt, and desire to revise certain things. It puts you in great company, and they are in your great company as well. One of my favorite “classical” writers, Louisa May Alcott, was so disappointed in “Little Women,” for instance. The unpublished manuscript was given to her editor’s little girl, and she Loved it- wanted More. It shocked LMA, but she allowed its publishing, and it saved her family from poverty. She didn’t think she did justice to her beloved sister Lizzie, named Beth in the book. I believe she did. Some books were of no consequence when written, but years later, a screenwriter with great foresight, bought the movie rights to a book, and made a blockbuster movie, and also made the book a classic. No one knows when a book will resonate with the times. As long as it was important for you to write it, it is important. It will be to your readers, and no one will know the importance it will have in the long run.
That’s an excellent example. I’m surprised to hear Louisa May Alcott had doubts about her book since it’s a timeless classic, but as you pointed out, no one ever knows how far a book will go. 😀
Thank you for this blog entry. It came at a good time. My son just completed a short story and is very discouraged because his reviews are very mixed. I will be showing him this blog because I believe your words will inspire him to not give up and as you mention, be happy because in the end he is happy with his story. He enjoyed writing it and I hope he writes more. I also hope that you will continue writing for many years, because I absolutley love your storytelling and characters. Thanks for writing.
I feel for your son. I’ve gotten reviews that made me question the quality of my work. I even almost quit writing twice because of them. Some people are downright nasty in their reviews.
I don’t know if this will help your son, but this is something that helped me not give up. I went to Amazon and read through as many negative reviews as I could find from authors I loved. I know that sounds bad to say something like that, but what it did was help me realize that good stories get negative feedback. Those reviews didn’t change my opinion of those books I enjoyed.
Another thing I did that helped was to print out any positive feedback I got on my stories. Then, when I felt doubt creeping in, I’d read the positive things people had to say about them. That might help your son, too.
It takes time to get past the negative feedback. Some days are better than others. I hope he keeps writing. We need more stories in this world that were created out of love. A lot of authors are writing what sells, and they don’t care if the story is any good or not. They just want something out there to make money. Over the years, I’ve talked with a few who said they hated romance but was writing them because of the money. Privately, they hated what they were writing. I’m all for a writer making money, but I think it’s best if the writer loves what they’re doing.
Trolls are everywhere. Their only purpose is to steal joy. If the criticism has no constructive value, it’s a troll spew. Erase that from your memory banks. I can tell you love your work, and I love it, too.
Exactly. These are trolls, and they take delight in bringing others down. I don’t understand their mindset, but the worst thing anyone can do is let them rob you of your joy.