I’ve been struggling for a while with perception of my work. Not only everyone else’s perception of it but my own as well. And maybe particularly my own.
Can writers view their work objectively?
I’ll admit I’ve always struggled to keep a distance between me and what I think of my writing. Some days I’ll finish a chapter and go back and think, “Man, did I write this? I don’t remember writing this. This is great stuff.” Other days I’ll look at it and go, “No one is ever going to want to read this dreck.” And it’s almost impossible to know which one is correct.
I’m a great fan of Johnny Depp, think he’s a brilliant actor. So I was amazed to hear him say in an interview that he’d never seen any of his films. This made no sense to me until I published a book. Once it’s out there and there’s nothing I can do to change any mistakes, I don’t want to look at it, to see those things I could have done different or better.
This is especially true with my older works. I have continued to grow as a writer, to understand deep POV better, to focus more on details of setting, to make my characters more complex and interesting. Looking back at my earlier works—which I have to do from time to time while I’m writing a series—I cringe to see some things I know to do differently now. I’d go back and rewrite some of them if I could, but I suspect I’ll have this problem throughout my writing career. Since I have to let go and write The End at some point, I’ll have to just take a page from Johnny Depp’s mantra and let it go.
I am heartened by one of the things I’ve noticed in theatre having to do with actors’ perception of their performances. Many times an actor will come off the stage saying, “I nailed that sucker,” and my evaluation is that the performance still needed work. However numerous times they will come off stage, head down, saying “God that sucked” and all I can think is “That was brilliant!”
We are all our own worst critics. Let’s give ourselves a vote of confidence and our beta readers a big round of applause for being that buffer and letting us know if our perception has hit the mark this time.