With great fear of being sued by Robert Palmer for messing with his song lyrics:
You like to think that you’re immune to the stuff…oh yeah
It’s closer to the truth to say you can’t get enough
You know you’re gonna have to face it
You’re addicted to love INPUT.
Publishing is such a subjective field of endeavor that at one point or another an author, editor or publisher dreams about the possibility they’ve had it all wrong from the beginning and it is actually a “scientific” venture.
Maybe we could study it enough and a computer program could make decisions for us or we could figure out the magic formula that would guarantee 100% success. Computers are pretty good at chess these days you know.
Then we suddenly awake up from our slumber and spiral back to the reality book publishing is primarily an art form involving an ever-changing mix of wisdom, insight, personal-preference, gut-feeling and inspiration. And because this strange brew completely creeps us out, blowing our logical Vulcan-minds, we resort to an endless cycle of asking for input from others.
At multiple times in the past, every author, editor and publisher asked twenty people their opinion on a particular subject related to their work and at best received nine people feeling one way, eight the other and three who couldn’t decide but would go along with whatever others say.
It is never unanimous and rarely even close to anything resembling a consensus.
So you do what any expert researcher would do, you ask more people for their opinion.
The results? The same ratios of uncertainty and subjectivity whether you ask twenty or 200 or 2,000 people. It never truly helps.
You realize flipping a coin is quicker and throwing darts to make decisions is more accurate and fun.
What cover do you prefer for the book?
Should we place a picture of monkeys or squirrels on the cover?
Do you like this title or this title?
Should the protagonist to be short or tall?
So, putting on my “freelance psychologist” hat in an attempt to figure this out, why do we constantly ask for other’s opinions of our work?
Failure. We are so afraid of it we are paralyzed without asking first. We want affirmation that our ideas are not completely wrong.
To be fair, social media has given us a fun way to ask for input and we often feel like it is a good way to involve others in our work. But does it really change things and make someone less prone to failure?
Writing is art and true artists create things they feel deeply about. If you don’t feel deeply about something, you shouldn’t be writing. In fact, if you don’t feel deeply about something, I have no advice what you should be doing.
I was fired as agent by an author who wanted me to tell them what to write.
Something to ponder: The best-selling books (and for that matter any art form) of all time were not the result of a survey. They come from the heart of an artist.
The most creative, groundbreaking companies are originated by the creativity of one inspired person.
The most successful, paradigm-shifting movements are begun by the vision of one person who felt deeply the status quo should not be accepted.
The best books are inspired, not researched.
Sure, you need to get input from others who are qualified to give input (not friends or family), but you will never research your way to success as an author. Understand the limits of input. There’s no mobile app for enhancing creativity, and if there is one, they are taking your $9.99 under false pretenses.
To determine the value of art, the opinions of three qualified people are far more accurate than 1,000 randomly surveyed.
At some point, someone will need to make a decision or choose a direction and live with the consequences.
Break the habit of input and instead pursue wisdom and inspiration. Those are the fuel for success anyway.
Oh yes, and write a really great story people will want to read.
‘The best selling books…come from the heart of an artists’. This makes it the third time I’d be seeing this in three weeks, twice from best-selling authors, and now from Dan Balow. And they hold true.
Thank you Mr Balow for this!
Oops! Should have written ‘an artist’. Editing issues!
It’s all about creativity around a truly great story – thanks, Dan! Great reminders to tap into the deeper inspiration rather than rely on the opinions of others to validate us. Thanks!
“There’s no mobile app for enhancing creativity” <– best line ever! I would tweet it, but that kind of irony would be lost in the Twittersphere.
I was smiling as I read this, Dan, because I can completely relate. I would love to have someone tell me what to write, what cover to choose for my books, and what to title them, but you’re right – I ask 10 different people and I get at least 5 different answers.
One of the hardest things about being a writer is all the decisions I have to make but your blog post is reassuring and helpful. I love these quotes:
“The most successful, paradigm-shifting movements are begun by the vision of one person who felt deeply the status quo should not be accepted.”
“Understand the limits of input.”
“At some point, someone will need to make a decision or choose a direction and live with the consequences.”
As a sanguine, people pleasing middle child who likes to live up to expectations, I have to keep resisting the urge to try to figure out what everyone wants me to write and then writing it. Thanks for some good help with that!
Susan Mary Malone
As an editor, I have people ask me this literally all the time. “I have this book and I have this idea and . . . which one should I write?”
And my response is always the same (not matter what the trends may be at the time), “Where’s your heart?”
Because of course if you don’t have true passion for writing, if your heart’s not in THIS book, you’ll have a tough time finding the fortitude to finish.
Great post, and thank you!
When I first “officially” started writing and joined a critique group, I said I wanted to write to make money and I needed to learn what sells and emulate that. I had the passion for money, but not for writing.
Fast forward some years…I now write because I have a passion for writing. Ideas keep bubbling up inside me bursting to be put on paper. Now I ask God to inspire me daily to write the words He wants me to write.
I needed to hear that.
I need input, AFTER I write from my gut.
I’ve been waiting for input to proceed. Wrong.
I love that you are doubly gifted as an agent and also a “freelance psychologist.” This conjures up images of Charles Schulz’s Lucy…”The doctor is IN.”
I’m sure it comes in handy when dealing with “creatives.”:)
Except my psychoanalysis isn’t worth five cents! (And it’s not priceless either…it goes the other direction!)
“Writing is art and true artists create things they feel deeply about.” I love that line and the reminder to trust our hearts as writers. I think the highly competitive publishing industry steals that ‘childlike joy of creation’ from us a little. I, too, needed to hear this – thanks Dan.
I love this post, Dan! After working for many years in a job where I was paid to always be pushing the envelope and where facts ruled instead of focus groups, I have to remind myself that paying some attention to input from others is part of the writer’s job. It’s heartening for a professional in the business to encourage us not to become enslaved by human input. In the end (and also in the middle), it’s only input from God that truly matters.
Brennan S. McPherson
Comes at a good time for me. Recently received a rejection for an endorsement with what struck me as odd reasons for rejection. After huffing and puffing, I examined the manuscript from the author’s perspective and found the truth was in the gray space between my perspective and theirs. Not everything in the manuscript was how I wanted it, though it took the author’s criticism to point it out to me (the author had read a much-edited Advanced Reader Copy). Felt foolish, licked my wounds, raged a bit at the criticism I still disagreed with, but most of what the author said was accurate, and fixing those issues alerted me to others the author hadn’t voiced. The manuscript was improved as a result of feedback that at first I wanted to toss in the snow. Now I’m thankful the author voiced it. The author didn’t have to, and only did so to help me.
It’s entertaining just how widely professional opinions vary (four successful authors offered only praise for the same manuscript the above author disliked). Art is endlessly complex and subjective, so it’s foolish to either trust every criticism or to stop examining criticism altogether. It’s not about being right. It’s about making the best art we can. Doing so demands admitting we’re human and making artistic decisions not everyone will like. “The best books are inspired, not researched.” Artists must be bold, and willing to challenge assumptions, yet they also must work within established guidelines. What’s a painting without borders? Or the imagination with no limits? And what should those limits/borders be? If we let others make those decisions for us, are we really artists at all?
Such a great post, Dan. Yeah, I’m one of those who sometimes craves input from others, for the exact reason you mentioned. I want to know that I’m not totally “out there” when it comes to story ideas, writing, etc.
The downside of relying on input from others is that it steals the confidence I could/should have in the giftings God’s given me. Not that we don’t need feedback, at times. But when I look for inputs for affirmation, then I have a problem.
You’re so right. Our writing needs to come from our hearts, our stories from what God’s placed within us, rather than what others/the market say we should be writing about. You’ve given me good food for thought . . . again. 🙂
Rene Diane Aube
Thanks, Dan! I needed to hear this. 🙂
Dan, I thoroughly enjoyed your rather cerebral post. Just when you feel you are likely on solid ground taking a position that writing is art not science some jamoke comes up with a schorlarly article proposing the contrary. lol
All joking aside I believe art is just that, art. It may later coincide with science but it began as art and remains so. There is much “art” contained within science. EVERYTHING was “designed” by the great I AM, there is no greater creative/artistic designer.
As far as seeking input my reason would be to seek opinion that possibly exposes a path to improvement that may have been missed, never validation. One must choose carefully who is invited to beta read in order that one does not cast pearls before swine.
Really great post, thank you!
The link is quite entertaining. As John Lennox, Oxford University professor of mathematics and superb apologist for the Christian faith*, has said, “Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists.”
If I were a betting person, I’d be willing to wager quite a lot that not even one of the authors mentioned in the article was contemplating the mathematical patterns of their sentences as they were composing their works of art.
Thanks for the chuckle!
*Check John Lennox out on Youtube if you haven’t heard him speak yet.
I would bet WITH you, not against. I use a technique in my own writing that I devised on my own and, for lack of a more descriptive term, call “echo”. My intent is an unnoticeably recurrent benign reverberation that cyclically propels the reader with increasing anticipatory satisfaction throughout the story that makes it seem vividly real. My goal is a very satisfying vicarious experience that leaves the reader very entertained, informed and just possibly, pleasantly changed.
I believe writing (or other creative endeavor) is actually a one on one process between the artist and each individual recipient. If you were sitting in an auditorium listening to a musical performance with 1000 other people it would actually be 1000 different experiences performed AT ONE TIME by the artist received by 1000 recipients that each combined their own experiences with the artists to fabricate 1000 different individual performances, one for each recipient. I feel it is the same for writing and other artistic efforts.
I know to “reach” the reader I must travel via their own hippocampus to ultimately reach their neo cortex thereby accessing and employing their own mental images derived from THEIR life’s memories through my words (evocative prompts) written on the page. I seek to make a connection with EACH reader, individually. They and I. I know I am not writing to a “whole”. The process is the same for movies (visually) or music (audibly), painting, dance and so on. If I can make someone cry, laugh, get angry, ponder, etc. I have “reached” them.
For me, this is intuitive in nature. If this later fits into some scientific theory so be it. It wasn’t consciously designed with that in mind.
Yeah John Lennox!
Thanks Dan! Good word!
In critique groups I sometimes see writers implement every suggestion given to them, and seldom is the piece better. We need to determine who to listen to and who not to. And if we’re not going to listen to the answer, we shouldn’t waste time asking the question in the first place.
My inbox summary showed this, “You might as well face it, you’re addicted to…Dan Balow.” Awesome!
And, just as awesome is the piece! It is a recurring cycle for me, to want validating input, it seems about ever ten days. Yet at the same time, I am trying to write non-fiction that is fresh and true, and not “research” based by beginning with what others say, footnoted appropriately. Ironic to want validation for what I am doing but also to not want researched input for my starting places.
Great timing and appreciated. Makes a big difference for me.