Monday, April 21, 2008

The self-satisfied author

In a comment on Friday's post at Romancing the Blog, author Laura Kinsale wrote:

...I’ll issue the warning of long experience to those aspiring authors who think the best thing about writing is the reader reaction. You are playing with cocaine there. Because once you get hooked on it, you will find it’s got YOU by the tail.

Aspiring authors? I know a boatload of published authors who, from the sound of things, are writing primarily to be adored by their readers. They actually say things like, "Look at this great fan letter I received. This is what makes it all worthwhile."

I always cringe when I hear that and privately hope reader adulation isn't really the reason those people are writing romance novels. Sure, it's wonderful to hear that the story you worked so hard on has touched your readers' hearts. But anyone who's writing primarily to be admired as a writer is missing out on a lot of joy, I think.

Many authors never read their books after the books are published. But I read mine, and not just once or twice. I bet I've read my first book, Finding Hope, at least six times. Yes, cover to cover--after it was published. Why? Because my greatest satisfaction in writing comes from my reaction to what I've written. I'm like Joan Wilder in the opening scene of Romancing the Stone. My own writing tickles me.

To reread one of my published books is to relive the satisfaction of writing it; to recall the jolt of joy I felt the afternoon I made up that killer-funny scene at the awards dinner in Finding Hope or to revisit the day I was struck by the notion that giving the beleaguered heroine of A Family Forever a miscarriage would send her into an emotional tailspin that would make that story. Every chapter and every scene in my finished books is a reminder of the challenges I faced and overcame during the writing process.

Sure, I'm gratified when readers say something I've written has touched their hearts or made them think or even Changed Their Lives (inspirational romance writers get that one a lot). But all that is icing, not cake; and I am writing for the cake. I relish the challenge of overcoming one obstacle after another, moving relentlessly forward until I have created a story that pleases me.

Maybe my author friends don't actually believe their writing is only worthwhile if other people like it. I hope they don't believe that because if they do, they're missing out on some seriously huge thrills in their writing lives.


jel said...


was very good,
have read it about 10 times so far!

me for one am glad you like to write! cause I like to read!

have a great day! :)


Anonymous said...

Oh, I wish I felt this way. I write what I write because these are the kinds of stories I love to read: I love the book while I'm writing about it and while I'm thinking about it. But when I read one of my published books, all I can see are the flaws. I wish I could have the joy of rereading it but I can only see the things that don't work, that fall flat, once it's actually printed and between covers. So I write for the love of writing, but I publish so that hopefully some reader, somewhere, will find in the book what I hoped to find by writing it.

I truly envy any writer who can get pleasure from rereading her own published work. (I do find it's not so bad if I go back to it after a long time. But not TOO long -- I made the mistake (?) of being published when I was quite young, and if I go back now and read things I wrote in my 20s it is just cringeworthy).

Ruth Axtell Morren said...

Hi Brenda,
Glad to see you're back (with a vengeance by all the posts you've written).
Interesting topic and quote by Laura Kinsale--one of my favorite historical romance writers. I'll have to pop over to that blog to read the rest of what she says.
I used to enjoy reading my own books, and hope as the previous comment says, to enjoy them again sometime in the future. As deadlines have come ever closer to each other, I enjoy rereading my work up to the line edit stage, but something happens when a few weeks later I get the galleys, while I'm deep in the middle of another story, and suddenly, I've just read that older story just one too many times. So, when I receive the book, I just don't have the heart nor the time to read it again.
But I do think if I ever have a breather again, I will enjoy revisiting my characters, and as you say, reliving the creation of them.

Brenda Coulter said...

Jan--Thank you!

Trudy, I find lots of flaws in my books when I read them. Lots. Not just printing and editing errors, but things I'd have done differently if I had known then what I know now. But I'm proud of my work because it was the best I could do at that point in time.

Ruth--yes, I'm blogging with a vengeance now! Good to see you here.

Marvin said...

Here's a little 'snort' for you Brenda. I still remember reading your 'Finding Hope.' And it was a delightful story.

As for my book, I have probably read it seven or eight times. I am enchanted by how what I created now has a life of its own.

Brenda Coulter said...

Marvin, are you the doctor from the Faith*in*Fiction boards? I haven't been over there in quite a while, so it sure is nice to see you here.

Thanks for your kind comment about my book.