As noted on the About Me page of my website, I observe a lot.
Along with those observations comes a running review of what I’m seeing. It can be people’s behavior (are we not endlessly fascinating?), something in the news (when I pay attention to it), or more frequently my two loves: books and travels. When I’m alone, these thoughts roll around in my writer’s head until I finally stop what I’m doing and still the musings by popping preliminary notes into Scrivener or writing them out. If husband and I are road-tripping somewhere, the poor chap puts up with my running litany of what I’m seeing until he points to the book on my lap and suggests, didn’t you want to finish that book?
I get the message.
Some of what I notice:
Standards have drastically changed in our country for clothing that is acceptable in public. If I wore noise blocking headphones, signage was covered, and I deplaned in Newark airport, it would be clear I was in America merely by the attire. Americans are too frequently too casual, wearing clothes that look like they’d rolled out of bed in them. On the last couple of flights, I’ve actually seen young people wearing pajamas to board a plane to Europe. I’ve yet to see anyone on trips within Italy, France, Germany, Spain … dress that casually—except for that time in Amsterdam when two Brits wore their pjs downstairs for the continental breakfast. They were politely asked to return upstairs and don appropriate outfits.
I love writing reviews on Amazon because I rely heavily on other reviewers when I am debating a purchase, so it’s important to give back to that community. My comments are as objective as possible in order that a reader can take what I’ve said and make a judgment of whether or not to purchase. I try to explain why I disliked a book so that someone can think: “Well, that doesn’t bother me.” This is, after all, my opinion. I do not usually recap the story—Amazon already provides that information—trying instead to discuss what pulled me in or repulsed me.
The same approach applies to TripAdvisor, where I’ve been reviewing since 2008 on hotels, restaurants, places to go, and things to do. I’ve written hundreds of contributions. I love when I get a helpful vote or if someone emails me for more details as they plan their trip. My goal is to express my opinion and to provide information on why I rated a place as I did so you can assess for yourself.
When we dine in a nice restaurant in the USA, anticipating five-star service and have a wait person walk to our table and greet us with, “Hi, guys,” I cringe. I seethe, openly look myself up and down, wondering. Yes, I hold off until the person leaves, turn to Alex and ask: “I am still a woman, right?” He, being a fellow, doesn’t mind this wording so much. I deplore it and often think about leaving a note that states: “Your tip went down a percentage point every time you called me a guy.” Alex won’t let me. Amazing restraint for a man who speaks his mind whether or not you care!
Rants, to be sure. But here’s the bottom line: I’m getting more brutal the more I review.
Since I’m a writer, certain to receive negative reviews on my own work, let’s focus on books:
Here’s the thing—I have completely lost my patience with bad writing. Completely. I’m done, I’m over it. I find it difficult to be kind anymore. Because of the onslaught of self-publishing opportunities, some authors are ignoring the fact that you must, must—let me state it again—must take your red pen—and hire someone with a red pen—to read your book over and over again before you hit that publishing button.
You must have critical, promise to rip-you-to-the-core readers review your book. Sure, we love the friends who say: that’s nice, good job. But that doesn’t help us be better. No. I’m talking about the folks who point out the flaws—the unintentional threads left hanging, the grammatical errors—all of it. You must find those people before you consider self-publishing, no different from taking those steps before querying an agent or seeking publisher.
Did you know that when Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep went from great detective book to great private eye film, they finished and someone asked, “Hey Ray, who killed General Sternwood’s chauffeur?” Yep, he’d neglected tying up that loose end. Even the best writers can miss a beat—but it will be the exception, not the norm for them.
I’m currently reading Lawrence Block’s, The Liar’s Bible—a good book for writers of fiction.
Do I love Lawrence Block? Almost always. By that I mean that I love his Burglar Books. They make me howl with laughter and entertain me every time. They’re on my bookshelf, never to be given away, and scheduled for rereading (and reviewing) this summer. However, I can’t read his Matthew Scudder novels. Nope. Not my thing. I plodded through one—barely. The writing is well done, it’s the character I have issues with. I don’t like him!
Block’s Burglar series is rather like Lawrence Sanders and his McNally books—I am always thirsty, hungry, and long for the beach when I read these delightful books. I never managed to get through more than one of his Deadly Sin books. They’re simply too dark even for a woman who once loved the macabre. Yet again, though, they are well-written.
Do I expect my novel to be free from bad reviews because I’ve worked it to death, had honest beta readers, and an editor who loves her red pen? Of course not. In the chapter of Liar’s that I just completed, Block talks about how one reviewer loved the blurb on a book jacket and suggested that the writer of it should have written the novel because it was better writing. Block wrote both.
So I expect there will be disappointed readers.
At sixteen, my mother asked, “Don’t you care what the neighbors [i.e., our relatives since we grew up in Griffith Hollow and were related to 90% of the folks who lived there] say?” I laughed and replied, “Mom, people will talk about me no matter what I do, so I might as well do what I want.” With my writing, all I can do is be confident that I have worked hard to put my very best efforts out to the world.
Standards of living, standards of writing, standards of service … I don’t want to let these things fall by the wayside. Let’s be tough when we review ourselves and keep the critiques going and coming and the desire to rise up a level or two alive. Let’s not become slobs either in how we dress or in our approach to work, or to our lives.
Care, a little, about what others think when you launch yourself and your opinions into the world.