One of the fun things to consider about writing is: who are you writing for? My stock answer is that I’m writing to entertain an imaginary reader out there who just happens to like everything I do. In fact, it is a bit more complex than that. Sometimes people who are important to me get passages. “I’m going to put this in there for Jen,” or, “Pamela will like this,” or, “This will make Will chuckle,” or, “Okay, Adam, here’s one for you,” or, “I wish I could see Emma’s face when she gets to this bit.” Obviously, this is even more fun when collaborating: writing to delight your collaborator is a big part of what drives you.
That’s one of the things that makes writing fun and enjoyable. And I make no apologies, because if Adam, for example, is going to be pleased when I make fun of elaborate, stupid dream sequences, well, I’m pretty sure some other readers will also be tickled. And tickling the reader is good in at least two ways: One, I like to make readers happy. Two, a good tickle tends to disarm the reader, thus setting him up for a good, hard, kick in the ‘nads.
I now abruptly change subjects.
I adore good criticism. By good criticism, I mean a piece of writing that makes me go, “Oh, man. I hadn’t noticed that. Cool!” The platonic ideal of a critic for me has always been the late and very much lamented John Ciardi. Of those working currently, one of my favorites is David Walsh of the World Socialist Web Site (he’s just written this, which I highly recommend). Now, unfortunately, Walsh doesn’t often review Hollywood movies, which means he rarely discusses anything I’ve seen. But, in the first place, his insights can be delightful even if I’m not familiar with the work, and, in the second, that makes it all the more fun when he covers something I have seen. A good critic makes you think about how the creator achieved the effect, about subtleties that are obvious now that they’ve been pointed out, and about how this work fits into a broader context both within the genre and within the society that produced it. This is stuff that I happen to enjoy, and is obviously useful, at a minimum in the sense of making you go, “Oh, hey, I know what I could do!”
And now we tie the two sections of this post together.
I’ve been reading Jo Walton’s essay collection, What Makes This Book So Great. It is delightful on several levels, not the least of which is that I come in for a lot of ego stroking. To semi-quote Twain, we like compliments. All of us do: writers, burglars, congressmen, all of us in the trade. But with Jo’s book, I’ve noticed something else. She keeps nailing me on things I did right, then backed away from. I still remember writing my first book, Jarhead or whatever it was called, and thinking, “Why the hell can’t people write books with ongoing, happy romantic relationships where that is just part of the backdrop? Fuck it, I’m going to do that.” Then I didn’t hang with it, and Jo called me on that. Or when I wanted to add a bit of revealing background by talking about how there weren’t carriages any more, now that teleportation was so common. Then I slipped away from that, because I wanted a carriage in a particular story, and she noticed that (I’m working on a retcon for that one). Critics who notice what you’re doing, like what you’re doing, and can point out things about your work that you didn’t notice, are incredibly valuable.
It just hit me today, as I was looking over the final draft of Hawk and considering the early chapters of Vallista, that at the moment I’m kind of writing for Jo Walton. I can live with that.