What if your friends don’t support your fiction writing? What if they sorta kinda vaguely support your fiction writing? What if they hate your writing? Does that mean you’re lousy?
A girl anonymously posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
My friends are always really supportive of my writing. One of my friends in particular, let’s call her Juliet, always loves my books and writing in general, but lately hasn’t been showing the enthusiasm she had before.
My other friends seem to like my work, but they aren’t as experienced with writing and I really appreciate Juliet’s opinion because she’s blunt and would tell me if my work sucks. I’m not some sort of I-Think-I-Am-Perfect or I-Can’t-Take-Criticism type of person, I’m open to it. She’s not bashing not praising my work, which confuses me and makes me leave my work after the first chapter. Granted, I sometimes send her fragments that are only a page long and don’t entirely make sense.
~Please help me on what to do, I don’t want to keep hating my books and never finish one. My writing has started to look so awful to myself.
Randy sez: Your letter was anonymous, so I’m going to call you Miss No-Name in this blog post. From the context and from your e-mail signature, I’m going to guess you’re in high school.
If that’s the case, then it’s very likely that none of your friends are capable of giving you a useful critique of your work.
Please, let’s be clear what I’m NOT saying here:
- I’m not saying that high school students are stupid.
- I’m not saying that high school students have unimportant opinions.
- I’m not saying that high school students don’t know what they like.
By the time a person hits high school, their intelligence is right at the peak of what it’ll ever be. And many high school students are voracious readers, so of course their opinions are important. Furthermore, by the time a person reaches high school, they know very definitely what they like.
The problem is that it takes years of full-time effort to become an expert in anything, and high school students simply haven’t lived long enough to become an expert in critiquing fiction.
Miss No-Name, what you need at this point is an expert opinion. You need someone who can tell you whether your writing is good, even if it’s not the kind of writing she likes.
Some of your friends like what you write. Your friend Juliet seems to be neutral about your writing.
But you really shouldn’t care what any of them think.
This is a lesson that every fiction writer needs to learn. I had to learn it. Every professional novelist I know had to learn it. Stephen King and John Grisham and Nora Roberts had to learn it:
Be careful whom you listen to.
If you want to know whether a car is any good, you shouldn’t care whether your friends think it’s cute. You should care whether an expert mechanic says it’s in good shape.
Let’s remember one key thing. When you’re writing fiction, you are writing for a certain “target audience.” Your target audience is the set of people who would love your book, if only they knew it existed.
When you’re writing fiction, the ONLY people you need to please are the people in your target audience. Nobody else matters. Nobody.
Maybe there are a thousand people in your target audience. Maybe a million.
But there are seven billion people on the planet.
This means that the odds are low that your friends happen to be in your target audience.
So there’s no reason to think that your friends will love your book.
If they’re kind, they’ll say nice things about your fiction writing. If they’re snarky, they’ll say mean things.
But either way, their opinion isn’t really all that useful. Their opinion tells you more about whether they’re naughty or nice than it tells you about whether your writing is excellent or horrible.
This is true, whether your friends are in high school are middle-aged or live in an old-folks home. Most people don’t know enough about the mechanics of writing to tell you whether your work is at a professional level. How could they? Most people know what they like. But they don’t know what your target audience will like.
Professional writers and editors and agents have studied writing enough to guess how a novel will fly with its target audience. And even with all their years of experience, they sometimes guess wrong, so it’s usually a good idea to get several professional opinions.
So Miss No-Name, you asked me what you should do. Here’s what to do:
Keep writing, but stop showing your work to your friends. That’s just asking for trouble. They might like it. They might hate it. But they almost certainly won’t know how it’s going to work with your target audience. You can’t hold your fiction writing career hostage to the whims of your friends.
To whom should you show your work?
Your English teacher, possibly. A lot of English teachers studied English literature in college. The only problem is that English literature majors may like the classics more than they like the kind of fiction that’s selling NOW. So even your English teacher might not be qualified to give you a useful opinion. (Again, this is not to imply that they’re stupid. The problem is just that they probably haven’t been trained well enough in modern creative writing. Five years of full-time training is about what it takes.)
So it’s better if you can get an opinion from a professional novelist or an editor or an agent. Better yet if you can get more than one opinion.
Please remember that nobody writes great fiction when they just start. You might have a few athletes in your high school who are good enough to play college football, but it’s almost certain that they’re not good enough to play for the NFL. But give them a few years and they might.
Give yourself time to learn the craft. Write a lot. Study the craft of writing. Get a critique from an expert.
But don’t worry about what your friends think.
And this is true for writers of any age, so I’ll say it again:
Don’t worry what your friends think about your fiction writing.
If you do that, then you risk letting them kill your dream.
For Further Reading
Here are some recent blog posts on related topics:
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.