I had an epiphany yesterday. Not as exciting as it may sound. I'm actually fairly prone to epiphanies, and when I articulate it, you'll probably be all, "whatever. *I* knew _that_." This is why I'm prone to epiphanies, and why no one should alert the national media when I announce I've had one. Things that are obvious to other people will suddenly hit me like a sack of bricks. Just ask my dad about Montreal. (We both felt stupid about that one!)
At any rate, here is it: writing is hard.
See, I said you'd be disappointed.
But, specifically, the thing I learned yesterday regarding the hardness of writing is that it's hard for both the writer AND THE READER.
I should say that I'm talking about original fiction here, and that by comparing fan fiction critique to to original fiction critique is how I learned this startling fact. At a fan fiction writing party I went to last Friday, I was hanging out with my fan fiction writing friends and the conversation turned to original fiction. Both myself and one of the other women there are trying to write original fiction for sale (she's sold some coloring books, I've, of course, sold novels and am trying to break back into that gig.) Anyway, we agreed that what was missing from original fiction writing was the cheer leading. She agreed to cheer lead my original fiction projects and I would do the same for her. So encouraged, I posted the very rough beginning of my Deep Space Lawyer up on Google Docs for her.
If my novel start had been a piece of my fanfic, I have no doubt I would have gotten the "whoosh" of excitement as she ran off to read it.
Instead, I got crickets.
In fact, I gave up waiting for critique from her and revised it based on some things that Wyrdsmiths said about an unrelated novel start, the one that takes place on Mars (because I decided that maybe their thoughts applied to this one as well.)
Perhaps I should be annoyed or disappointed by this reaction, but instead I asked myself, why I am I so much more excited to read the latest from my friend's amazing alternate universe Bleach epic, and yet I have to drag my feet through reading a submission from Wyrdsmiths? (A phenomenon so common we all jokingly refer to having "read our homework on the bus" sometimes, because, despite having these manuscripts often for TWO WHOLE WEEKS in advance, we _all_ have times when wait until the very last moment to sit down and read them and then real life conspires to make it impossible to read before the group meeting. So, often I'll arrive at the coffee shop early and discover everyone is quickly reading the last of the handouts and I usually say 'hi' and quickly join them for the same reasons....)
I think this happens partly because, ultimately, original fiction is work for the READER, too. Particularly for critique, but perhaps all the time. I was also having a lovely email chat with Kyell Gold, my fellow GoH from Gaylaxicon, last night and we were talking about the sense a lot of science fiction fans (and pros) have of being woefully under-read in our field. This feeling sometimes causes us to sit down with a particular IMPORTANT author's work and plow through the MEANINGFUL NOVEL, like it's the biggest chore on the f*cking planet.
To be fair to Kyell, he didn't actually suggest that the book he'd read was a chore, but the discussion in general made me remember the times *I'd* done that and felt that way.
Fanfiction gets a different response, I think, because the reader knows s/he's already invested in the story and the characters. I like Renji so much, I'll pretty much try ANY story where he's a character. But I also tend to be picky. I'll try, but I'm very likely to bounce off, so when I finally meet a writer whose writing I actually like, and perhaps even ADMIRE, it's NOT a chore to read their beta-drafts, it's a F*CKING PLEASURE.
I've been known to have the same experience with original fiction, of course. There are authors whose work I'm so in love with that I rush off to buy/borrow their latest INSTANTLY and, if they were to ask, I would drop EVERYTHING to be their beta/critique reader. But, when a friend, even a friend whose work you know you like, asks you to read their original fiction (especially if it's NOT a continuation of a favorite story with characters you're familiar with) it's a lot harder to get motivated to dig in. Perhaps, too, because original fiction has to be read in a different way and -SOMETIMES- the critique is more intense, more in-depth.... or at least it's a different kind of critique in that there are different expectations for original fiction than there are of fanfiction.
So, my contention is that writing is hard for the reader, too.
I think this is why it's important for me to have a group like Wyrdsmiths, who are basically beholden to read my original fiction and try to help me fix it (because I have promised to do the same for them). I wonder, too, if this is an especially painful problem for people trying to make the switch to writing original fiction after growing up/being immersed in the fanfic community? I think it could be potentially very disheartening to get crickets if you're expecting whooshes. It would probably be very tempting to imagine that the crickets come from the fact that 'my writing is NO GOOD!' thoughts, rather than what is probably the truth--that reading original fiction is a chore, no matter how good the writing and the story.