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  • Writer's pictureA.R. McNevin

The reader gets to decide

Updated: Aug 20, 2022

I saw this tweet on a writers' forum a couple of weeks back and... well, read it first.

Anything jump out at you? Anything odd? Anything off putting?

I found this on a writer's forum on Facebook and I did find something amiss... and I said as much. If you're a writer and you're "making it up as you go along", surely, that's a bad thing. If you just look at it from a gardener/architect divide, all types of writer would have some plan going forward. They would have an ending in mind, a place they want to go... even if they never get there. Even if it is a throwaway or a kill-your-darlings scenario, a writer will have a plan. Even if it is written on the back of a postage stamp, there will be a plan.

If you say to anyone in any situation, "this was made up as you went along", what's that saying? It's definitely not a complement. It saying the speech, the presentation, the argument, or the piece of fiction was poorly made. It's not a good thing.

And yet, I was universally dismissed on the forum. "The writer is a professional", they said. "They're more successful than you", they said. "You can't take a joke", they said.

The first two comments, I felt, didn't count. You can be Joe Unknown or you can be GRRM, and your words stand or fall on their own. Your back catalog or your millions sold don't matter one iota if you say something stupid. But it was the third type of comment which really stuck in my craw.

Was it a joke? Good joke or bad, but was it one?

The writer was denigrating an opinion. Someone had bought a book, read it, and had a reaction to it. Isn't that what we as writers, aspiring or multimillionaire, want? We want a reaction and they, the reader, get to have a reaction.

Sure, it was a bad one, which this writer... I want to say they misunderstood or misinterpreted, but then... none of the other writers on the forum did that. They took the comment at face value. And maybe that speaks to their own process, or the process of the posting writer. They don't edit or re-write or go through the (I would argue) essential drafting process. Maybe they do start at chapter one, page one and don't stop until they reach chapter 20, page 200. I tend to doubt it. But that was the position they were presenting, intentionally or not.

And yes, the reader's reaction may lead them to write a hurtful or cruel or even malicious review. I've had a few one star reviews and (fortunately more) four and five star reviews. Some like and some dislike. Have those reviews had an effect? I can't say no... but I can say that effect hasn't been on my writing... just on my head, my heart and my soul.

But the reader gets to decide. And yeah, saying "it felt like it was made up as it went along", that's a negative review. It's a clear comment on how (bad) they felt about the book; the product that they bought.

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