Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Konrath on Being Deliberate

Sorry about skipping the joke today. My mind has been blown by a lot of interaction and memories and stuff due to the family gatherings.

However, I had to stop and post about Joe Konrath's post today. He puts great words to something I've always believed in my gut, but I have always been too distracted by detail to get the big picture.

Be Deliberate.

What he's talking about is probably the most important thing about being a writer -- or artist, or human. As a reader or viewer or customer, you're passive. This magic happens for you and it seems like magic. But that magical experience comes from deliberate choices of the creator.

Beginning writers do not have the skill to be fully deliberate about everything they do -- every detail. And many writers get to rely on that. They like to imagine some magical inspiration or something doing the work for them. And that makes them lazy.

But a master is deliberate about everything. And if you want to be a master, you should start being deliberate before you actually make it to master.

This relates obliquely to one of the things I talk about a lot. Konrath mentions the fact that most people seem to assume anything they don't like is a mistake -- and writers who aren't deliberate about what they do feed this prejudice because, well, if you're not deliberate, a lot of what you do IS an accident, even when it's the best thing you do.

Over the past few years I've talked here quite a bit about things like nurturing your darlings rather than killing them, and about the value of Mary Sue, and about how legitimacy is overrated.

Conformity is a natural instinct, and a convenient one -- we can do things without the work of deliberation when we just go along with what the group mind says is right. As often as not, the group mind is pretty good at things like, oh, avoiding danger and surviving. But it takes nonconformity to invent new things. And nonconformity means you have to be deliberate. You have to think for yourself.

If you are nonconformist, it's not an excuse to skip the work of being a conformist. Nonconformity is more work, not less. Nobody has beaten a path for you. The whole point of nonconformity is that it's worth the extra effort.

(I say this because so often people jump for nonconformity as an excuse to escape the rules. Because after all, getting published the traditional way is such hard work.)

But one of the big jobs of being a nonconformist -- something Konrath touches on -- is that you have to be able to shake off criticism. I don't mean just ignore it. I mean that you have to be able to listen to it and not be bothered or swayed from your path.

Some criticism is directly useful -- this this is actually very rare once you are actually writing "deliberately" as Konrath describes it. That is, if you have sufficient command of language to do what you intend to do. At that point, it is extremely rare for someone to be able to give you specific info on how to do what YOU want to do better. It happens, but not that much.

A lot of criticism is indirectly useful, though. What it does is give you a view of how other people think. How they see things. Who your audience is and is not. This is the element of criticism which is not only most useful, but is also most overlooked. You aren't learning about you, you're learning about them. Since writing is about communication of your deliberately chosen adventure, understanding your audience is critical.

The key is reaching that point where you are actually deliberate about all those choices. That's the tough part.

Anyway, read Joe's post. It's nice to see him posting about craft, since he spends so much time on business and I think we need a little more of this.

See you in the funny papers.


Anonymous said...


I think he oversells the virtues of deliberation. "I meant to do that" does not quite cover all the flaws a story might have. I doubt Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell started out slowly by accident, but I do think it's a weakness, even though the world-building held me until the story built.

The Daring Novelist said...

Here's where I completely disagree with you, Mary.

Sure, for each individual reader there are weaknesses and strengths that have nothing to do with what the writer intended -- but that is irrelevant to the writer.

I think Konrath confused the issue by saying thoughtless reviewers were idiots. No they're not. The _reviewer's_ intention (for their audience - which is not the writer) is what important in a reviews. I think Konrath was trying to point out that reviewer opinions are irrelevant to _the writer_. And that's absolutely true.

That isn't to say that they are irrelevant to everyone. Just to the the writer and anyone who happens to disagree with the reviewer. To those who agree, of course it's relevant.

IMHO, it's critical for writers to stop caring about that and start caring about what they actually want and deliberately going after it.

Have the guts to mean what you say and say what you mean.

"I meant to do that" not only covers everything, it's the only correct motivation. (But it only counts if you actually DID mean to do that.)

Andrew Ashling said...

I liked the clarification about what we can learn from reviews. I think you are right. In a lot of cases they say more about who our audience is than anything else.
I'm still a bit puzzled though how to handle reviews by people who obviously read a book that wasn't meant for them. I understand their disappointment, however up until now I've come up with nothing better than to just do nothing.
Any suggestions?

The Daring Novelist said...


Reviews are not for the writers. They're discussions among the readers. They aren't yours to handle.

"Just do nothing" is exactly what you should do.