October 24, 2013

On feelings, and expressing them, and being stuck between being a writer and a reader

There’s a book firestorm happening this week around a conclusion to an incredibly popular series that was incredibly unsatisfying to a large portion of an already huge group of readers.

That’s a tough place to be, and that’s an understatement.

As an author, this is an intensely uncomfortable situation to watch. It is. I won’t pretend otherwise. Because here are two things that are okay:

1. To write the book you want to write
2. To hate the book you just read

It takes courage to write an ending/plot point/whatever that feels right to you, but that you know will be unpopular. And you do know. Writers deal in emotions. We know. There will be backlash. It takes fortitude to deal with that as well.

It’s gut-punchingly terrible to read a book you wanted to love with characters you already love and be dissatisfied. The worst. Even worse than the worst when you throw in lengthy anticipation and having paid for something you end up hating. Readers know this, and since writers tend also to be readers, we know that too.

There’s not really a way to reconcile those two things. It’s tricky, this situation, so so tricky. There are emotions and expectations and feelings involved. There’s the freedom—necessity—for artists to take risks and follow their vision. There’s the extra-tricky complication of the fact that this art isn’t free—it’s sold to readers for cash money.

Because this situation has all these variables that are at odds with each other but also not wrong, it inevitably leads to some wrongness. Here are two things that are not okay:

1. Threatening a person
2. Denigrating a person

Except I don’t think rational people do those things. But humans, even ones who are generally good and nice and any number of positive traits, aren’t always rational. When emotions—and what are fandoms or content creators but people with intense emotions and investment in a thing?—are involved, you’re even more likely to encounter irrationality. This is not an excuse. It’s just a fact. There will be irrationality. On BOTH sides, which just fuels more irrationality until the situation devolves into inevitable ugliness. No one enjoys this, yet it happens again and again. Because feelings. It all comes back to feelings.

But what to do? I don’t know. There is not a satisfying ending to this situation. Authors want fans and to be true to ourselves. Readers want to be surprised and to be satisfied. These two and four things won’t always come together. There's so much more, too, so many nuances I haven't mentioned, that we could talk about in relation to this conundrum.

I guess the bottom line is to remember we’re all people, writers and readers. Have feelings, intense ones, be they good or bad. Express them even. But not with threats and/or insults directed at people. Please.
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  1. Great post Cara. You present a very true point that may apply to other artists as well. As an artist it can be sometimes difficult to criticize other artists who practise in the same art because as an artist first and foremost you understand what the other artist goes through to create the art you personally may not like. So as an artist you caught in the middle of respecting the process and the courage, and hating the final product. All artists, whether they be writers or painters or anything else I can't list at the moment find themselves stuck with this situation eventually. And unless they have egos that like to feel above everyone else in their field, which restricts growth and isn't all that healthy for their own creative processes in my opinion, they will have to find a way to deal with this emotional time. It's difficult.

    1. This comment is right on, Alexandra. It's a situation with parallels in every medium. Art can be so solitary, but at the same time, you know you're never the first (or last) to experience something, good or bad.