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Monday, May 10, 2010

Are Cheerleaders Dangerous?

When I decided to take up writing seriously, the first thing to go were the cheerleaders. That's a hard thing to give up when you're first starting out. Cheerleaders make you feel like a million bucks. They think you walk on water and when you make a mistake, they pat you on the back and assure you the mistake only made the story better.


The other day, Marian Perera wrote a follow up to my post on fan-fic, and one of her commenters, Linda Adams, mentioned that one of her objections to fan-fic was 'addiction to feedback'.

That is what reminded me of those early cheerleaders and about relying on feedback to write your story.

Feedback addiction is dangerous whether you write fan-fic or original work. I've seen more than a few good writers get sucked into that well and never rise to the next level.

One writer in my first little group could barely write a scene without getting group approval. I was embarrassed for her, yet no one else in the group seemed to mind. They thought they were being helpful.

Obviously, I was the one who had to go. I was outnumbered by do-gooders, saintly critiquers who can derail a writer's career faster than a zombie agent at a RWA conference.

You can't please everyone, nor should you try. Heck, even my old stuff doesn't please me anymore. I always try to aim higher and when I look back, I smile and tell myself, that was then. This is now. What kind of story can I write today?

So, tell me writer friends. Do you still like your old work or do you wish you could rewrite it now that you know better?

Readers: If you followed a particular author, can you tell the difference between her newer work and her older stuff? Is it better--or just different?


Renee Miller said...

Great post. Very true.

As a writer, I don't trust feedback that is entirely positive. I want to know where I can improve, not what I've done right. I've seen this too and often ruffle feathers when I don't always offer 'positive' critiques on someone's work. Meh, they shouldn't ask if they don't really want to know.

Do I like my old work? God, no. I hate it. I want to rewrite it but honestly, it's so bad I can't be bothered. I don't have the time at the moment, maybe some day. Or maybe I'll leave it as crappy as it is so that I can see how far my writing has come since then.

As a reader, I can tell the difference between some of my favorite authors' older and newer stuff. I think for the most part, it's not always better, but it is different. But their 'voice' hasn't changed. I hope that makes sense.

Maria Zannini said...


Ref: But their 'voice' hasn't changed. I hope that makes sense.

That does make sense. And I think when it comes right down to it, it's their voice that brings me back. Good observation.

Ref: ...where I can improve, not what I've done right.

I don't mind if my CPs point out what I did well because it helps me to understand my storytelling as a whole. But I love it when they point out the things I missed or was too 'lazy' to elaborate further. This helps me immensely.

Joanne said...

I think my writing has evolved and changed with time. As I've written and learned more, that wisdom affects my work, and I hope strengthens it. I do see the good in some of my early work, but don't know if I'd ever resusitate it!

Diandra said...

I wouldn't want to change the things I've written 5 or 10 years ago. I simply wouldn't write it. The stories are done, they may not have been good, but they were there and they were necessary, I believe.

(Sometimes, when I do have time to read some Twitter #FridayFlash, I will take extra time for critique. And I suspect some people hate me for this, but I am really trying to be honest, because otherwise we don't get better. And I really like it if people leave honest critique for my stories, because I don't polish or only put out the best I can - I put out almost whatever I write on my blog. Sometimes I scroll back to when I started posting my stories online (only a few months back), and I won't recognize the stories and read them and see the flaws. Which helps me learn and improve myself.

Dru said...

As a reader, I've definitely seen changes in some of the authors who's past work is nowing being reprinted. You can tell that they've learned and honed their craft for the better.

Jannette Johnson said...

I had a similar experience with a writing group, and like you, left them to their back-patting party.

I assumed the whole idea to groups like that, was to learn and grow, but when you see them making the same mistakes over and over, you really begin to wonder if they're even taking your suggestions into consideration.

My work has improved considerably since I started getting serious. Would I re-work some of my old stuff? I've tried and I just can't get the tone right, so I leave them alone. Like your other posted said, they're done, and I always believe if a story knows how it's suppose to sound, and I, just the vessel to write them out.

Maria Zannini said...

Joanne: I love that about not resuscitating it. It's kinda like: you only live once.

Maria Zannini said...

Diandra: I'm a firm believer that we only see our (story) flaws after the passage of time.

For me, it's usually about 2-3 months. That's how long it takes me to let it sink in and analyze it.

Maria Zannini said...

Dru: I've noticed the same. The writing is usually crisper with later books, at least with the authors I follow.

Maria Zannini said...

Jannette: There's a certain amount of chemistry involved with crit groups. Not everyone is suited to one another.

I feel very comfortable with my CPs because I feel they truly care about helping me improve. It takes a great deal of trust in a good crit relationship. It's just like a marriage.

Helen Ginger said...

I don't trust feedback that's too negative or too positive. I listen to it, but then make my own decision.

Straight From Hel

Maria Zannini said...

I agree, Helen. The too negative crit can be just as unhelpful as a too positive one.

Marianne Arkins said...

Oh man... my old stuff is TERRIBLE. The plots are fairly sound, but the writing?

Dear heavens... I'm embarrassed I ever showed it to anyone.

I love a crit group that balances some praise with valid crits. I think you need to have a little bit of "hey, I liked that part" along with the "but that part really stinks because of XXX."

India Drummond said...

Some of my old stuff is terrible... some of it is a crap stew... mostly nasty but with some good bits, if you can stand to fish for them.

I keep it all though, even the horrid literary stuff I wrote at university.

I think everyone should have one cheerleader. No more t... no less.

Maria Zannini said...

Marianne: Absolutely. And balance is the key.

Maria Zannini said...


Ref: crap stew
Mine has a lot of spices too. LOL.

Anonymous said...

I think writers need cheerleaders. Publishing is such a hard world that it's easy to get discouraged without someone telling you that you can do this.

The trick is to know that the cheerleader is cheering, not critting.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I've tried to change stuff I wrote many years ago, and it's not possible. Flaws lurk at the core of those old manuscripts, and it's better for me to write something new. But I'll never throw them out. ^_^ As for published authors, I don't like the turn Laurell K. Hamilton took a few years back. I like her earlier books much better.

Maria Zannini said...

Daw: In a perfect world, I think all writers should have one diehard cheerleader. But I'm okay without one. I'm surrounded by so many good people (present company included) who have helped me so much. It's all the love I need.

Maria Zannini said...

Ref: LKH
You're the third person who's said that to me in less than two weeks.

hmm...I wonder what happened with her.

Marian said...

I think there's a cheerleader/critic ratio, and this should vary depending on what you expect from your work.

Fanfic? If it's mostly for pleasure (as opposed to improving one's writing skills), all cheerleaders is fine.

Short stories for a small local magazine? More critic needed. Manuscripts to be sent to Writers' House or Jean Naggar? Lots of critic.

I'm definitely rewriting a couple of my older manuscripts. Doesn't mean I don't love them, doesn't mean I didn't put my heart into them. Just means that skills should not be static.

Maria Zannini said...

Ref: skills should not be static.

Right you are. I get silly with glee when my skill level takes another forward step.