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Monday, January 9, 2017

Accepting that You'll Disappoint Readers


I've been having some good things happen to me on my writerly path the last six months, but as some of you may have noticed, I'm missing something: a published novel. I've published other pieces, but I'm still working on "The Book."

After sharing some good news with my brother, he asked me if I was worried about how my book would be received. After all the opportunities I've had, and the friends, connections, and followers I've gained, and the continued growth of my blog, would people have expectations that were too high and difficult to meet?

Years ago this sort of thing would have haunted me with questions: What if no one likes my book? What if my friends or family don't like it? What if people think less of my skills? What if people think less of me as a person?

The truth is, one of my biggest weaknesses back in the day was my need for consistent validation. Years ago, I had a few life realizations (that I still want and really need to share on here someday) and overcame that. So when my brother asked me that question, I could answer honestly that I wasn't that worried about it.

Now, I'm sure I will worry about it somewhat when I get to that point--it's natural to wonder how a book you've spent years on will be received. But here's the thing:

You will always disappoint someone.

Yes, I know that sounds weird to say, and to some people (hello, old me) that sounds really depressing. But in a way, it's actually a relief. When you acknowledge and accept that fact, I mean truly accept it, you can move on. It won't hurt that much when it happens.

And here's why it's true, especially with readers.

Whenever a book is anticipated, someone will be disappointed. Do you know why? Because readers have expectations, but man, are they vague! Dang vague. 

If you asked them beforehand what they were expecting, you probably wouldn't get a very concrete answer, and you almost definitely won't get a specific answer. And on the rare occasions that you do, you won't get more than a handful.

How do you perfectly meet vague expectations?

Easy. You don't.

Because you can't.

I've seen it happen time and again in life. People want something, and they want it bad. But they don't actually know specifically what they want.

I remember when the last Harry Potter book came out--to extremely high expectations. But even though Rowling did a stellar job, people were disappointed. I had a friend who just couldn't power through it.

I remember joking about it, "What did you think it would be about? The giant squid?"

It happens with movies. I once had a friend who really wanted to see a specific movie based on a true story. But because I work in the writing industry, when I heard the true story and saw the trailer, I thought, How can they make a full movie out of that? Truth be told, after we saw it, my friend just said it was fine, but not what he expected.

When I asked what he had been expecting, he couldn't answer.

The reality is, the true story the movie was based on was a great true story. But just because it's a great true story doesn't mean it will make a great movie. People liked the true story so much, that they hoped to like the movie even more than the truth.

But that specific movie just couldn't live up to those expectations. It didn't have enough content to work with.

As writers, we are going to disappoint people.

It will happen, and there is nothing we can do about it.

People have vague expectations about what they want to see done perfectly.

And even to satisfy people with specific expectations is often to disappoint other people with other expectations.

Sure, there are some expectations you can and should anticipate and deliver on--because you promised them in your blurb, or previous book (if it's a series). We need to have Edward bite Bella. We need to see Harry facing Voldemort. Mulder and Scully need to encounter alien activity. 

But there is still a lot of space to play with outside those expectations. And you can not please everyone.

And to make matters complex, many audiences and readers even feel a sense of entitlement. They deserve this [vague expectation], and YOU BETTER DELIVER ON IT!!!! OR ELSE!!!

The relationship between writer and reader is one where both participants build the story together. The writer suggests the story. The reader willingly imagines it and fills in the blanks. While there should be some legitimate respect between each other, keep in mind that the reader ultimately doesn't control what you write. You should tell a good story, but for the most part you don't "owe" the reader [vague expectation]. They chose to pick up your book. They chose to participate in it. They can leave whenever they want.

As a writer, you have to decide what kind of relationship you want to have with your readers.

And writing world aside, I'm often surprised in day-to-day life when human beings feel entitled that someone else needs to act and believe a certain way. They react in ways like, "Well, if Sally did that, she's really losing her touch!" (Ha, as if Sally lives her life to please you and your standards. Who are you? The Almighty?)

So when people ask me if I'm worried that I might disappoint people when my first novel comes out, I tell them, "No, because I know I will."

In any case, almost everyone knows it's easier to critique and criticize a story than it is to write one. (Whether that knowledge is actually reflected in attitudes toward writers is questionable.) I've written a lot of writing tips that break down stories on my blog. I testify that it's 100 times easier to deeply dissect a story than it is to write an exceptional one!

And it should be.

As I've said before, our eye toward criticism should always be ahead of our abilities. When it isn't, that's when we really need to worry. Because, how are we supposed to get better? Our abilities should always be behind so we have something to work toward.

Sometimes I consider that my novel will disappoint people by being more lighthearted than they expect, darker than they expect, or having content and themes they didn't expect. I consider some people might say, "I can't believe you wrote that!" (Not that I have anything that crazy in it by any means, but for some reason, people tend to think that I will commit and write no wrong--I don't want to write all about saints though, it's boring.)

But let's be honest.

I'm writing this thing for myself.

And I've found more peace in life accepting I'll be a disappointment to some obscure person at some point in time than I ever found worrying about it.

1 comment:

  1. This article has been so educational for me! Thank you!


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