June 25, 2012 in Essay, Interview
This is the second part of a four part series on writers and their online experience with readers/reviewers/fans. You can find Part One here.
Part Two – Does It Affect Your Writing?
Has this ongoing direct contact with people on the internet/fans affected your writing in any way?
In the same way the responses to the first question surprised me, these surprised me too. The responses were split 50/50 on this question. Some people indicated that while they appreciated and, in some cases, dreaded knowing what people thought about their writing, they didn’t let it affect their work in any real way, feeling that their job was to be true to the characters and story. Now I certainly understand that and my perception of writers is that they are operating within a specific world in any given story and the point is to find out what they see, what they choose to tell us about that world and those characters. To quote Will Rogers, “A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing…” and stories, just because I might see a story going in a different direction doesn’t mean that it SHOULD do that, it just means that I have an opinion about it.
Now the flip side of that is the half who said that feedback from readers was something that they paid attention to, because it gave them valuable input. Ilona Andrews (writing team Ilona and Andrew Gordon) said, “Direct contact is a great way to gauge interests in a particular character or idea. Most of the feedback and comments are beneficial.”
The largest majority of my creative life has been spent working in live theatre and that by definition is a collaborative art. So this also makes sense to me, possibly even more sense than those who said they don’t take reader feedback and comments into consideration. I am used to a creative experience where many weigh in on the work and affect the work by how they participate with it.
While not a collaborative experience by ANY means or definition, the input from readers can provide some people with useful insight. Seanan McGuire said, “We all live inside our own heads, and much like we’re sometimes wrong about what would look best on us, or what would be the best afternoon activity, we can be wrong about our own worlds, or at least wrong about how other people will view them.”
But this does open writers up to potential commentary that is less than constructive. Ilona Andrews said, “Occasionally I get an odd individual who resorts to abuse because they didn’t like something they found in a book or because a particular book isn’t available in their preferred format. We don’t write to order and we’ve learned to disassociate from fans who are unwilling to be polite.” I also heard that there was some stress in wanting their online friends/readers to like their work and that might not always happen. This type of interaction seems to be most useful with a specific level of objectivity.
I remember hearing a screenwriter speak many years ago about getting notes from an acquaintance on a script. He said the notes made him think, not necessarily agree across the board, but think. Jim C. Hines said something very similar, “I don’t let anyone dictate how I write my stories, but the wonderful thing about my fans and peers and friends online is that they help me to think about things I might have missed on my own.”
Not too surprisingly everyone was clear about being the final arbiter of what happens in their writing. What is interesting to me is that the internet gives writers a new avenue for discovering how their writing is being received and it’s a discovery that they can make very quickly. Quickly enough that it can affect whether they pursue a character in a series or bring something in the world they’ve created into greater or lesser focus. I personally have mixed feelings about this for reasons I’ll perhaps write about another day. In the end whether or not reader response impacts how or what writers write seems to be completely individualistic to each writer.
My next question was if they were surprised by the nature and tone of the interaction with people on the internet?
To be continued on July 2, 2012…