I spent this past weekend at the wonderful Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington. (It’s a really amazing place, and you should check it out if you get the chance.) After hanging out with dinosaurs and butterflies and re-learning how awesome physics is, I popped into the Planetarium for a show about… well, planets.
I was super pumped. Out of the countless amazing things I love, space and its exploration are way up on the list. I was prepared to sit back and be shot through the stars; to swim around nebulae and climb the Pillars of Creation.
That’s… not what happened.
Most of the show, the host (shoutout to Rin!) spent her time asking questions that derailed her train of thought. All of the topics she tried to get to were interrupted by the audience. (Super unfortunate! She was an entertaining and knowledgable host.) I grew upset because I realized that there were a lot of people who didn’t understand the very basic things the host was trying to explain. It made for a very annoying experience. This is basic gradeschool science! I thought. This is atrocious.
I walked out of that planetarium mad. For a little while.
When I looked back on it, I realized my initial judgment of the situation was extremely harsh. It’s true that some people don’t understand the basic concepts of our local solar system. But, that’s why (hopefully) they went to the planetarium in the first place. To learn. And just as they don’t know the basics of something I love, so I probably don’t know the elementaries of whatever they find fascinating.
A good lesson there, for sure. Patience and understanding. But, how do we apply these lessons as writers? Why am I posting this story on Writer Wednesday?
I think there’s a general fear among writers–perhaps even specifically sci-fi/fantasy writers–that people aren’t going to “get” what we’re trying to say. There’s a thousand different ways this can translate. Should you explain that magic system more thoroughly? Is there a reason to detail the scientific processes of the ship’s power core? Is my character’s philosophical question too deep? Do I look stupid or pretentious when I say things like this?
The answer to all of those is different for everyone. For me, it’s: maybe… but so what?
We everyone to read our stories. It’s natural. We love our characters and our worlds and our magics. We want to share that with everyone, and watch them fall in love with our worlds as much as we have. Some people might! Some people won’t. Some people will put the book down because of the cover, or the title, or the name of the POV character. Some people won’t ever see your book, because they don’t visit the part of the store it’s kept.
A lot of people don’t even read fiction.
A lot of people don’t even read.
That’s totally okay! I hope to attract those people to read my work, but I can’t be upset if they don’t want to. I can’t be upset if they don’t like it. This goes for people who pick it up in the stores and people who browse past it on the Web. It goes for editors who pass on the manuscript.
All we can do is write the things we love to write. We write what we observe and what inspires us. We do it because we love it, and we sell our books because we want people to have them (and because we need to eat). If you put your love into your work and don’t worry so much about how that work will be judged, the work itself will feel more genuine. In turn, more people are going to want to read it…because it will be awesome.
We don’t need to worry about judgment. We don’t need to mold our work into shapes that other people want. We should always make the choice that we think is best for the story. (Spoiler: sometimes that means trusting an editor’s advice, and sometimes it doesn’t.)
If you judge your work with too critical an eye, you begin telling the story and not the characters. The characters should tell the story. The world should speak for itself. If they’re crafted and curated with love, they will. Characters want to tell their own stories, and worlds want to show themselves off. (That’s why we feel such an urge to write them well.) Let them do that. No one wants to read a book that sounds like a history book. They want to see the story unfold through the eyes of the protagonists.
You can’t tell a flower what to look like when it blooms. But you can tend to it as it grows and appreciate what it is.
If you put love into what you do, you have succeeded. You will draw readers, and some of those readers will like your work. Some of them will ask for more. Some of them will drool impatiently over your release dates. Some of them will think your work is a burning pile of garbage.
But, good or bad, none of that will matter. Because you love what you do.
And you love your work.
So someone else will too.
Ronin likes to hang out in museums and learn more about the visitors than the attractions. He wants you to look at his cool stuff! That is, if you want. You can find his writing on Tumblr, WordPress, and Facebook. Subscribe to his Youtube channel for videos every Friday.
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