Tuesday 5 June 2012

Guest Post: A Reading Writer's Dilemma

A Reading Writer's Dilemma
By Elysa Hendricks

When I was young, before I started writing (more years ago than I care to remember or admit) reading was my greatest pleasure. I was never a physically coordinated child. Team sports and board games (no computer stuff back in the Dark Ages) didn't appeal to me. So I spent my free time lost in the fictional worlds of Heinlein, Clark and Asimov. At some point, probably in my mid to late teens, I discovered romance novels and I was hooked. Harlequin, Rosemary Rogers, and Kathleen Woodiwiss introduced me to the world of dashing heroes and imperiled heroines, love and sometimes sex. I devoured the short contemporary Harlequins and immersed myself in the long historicals. At that time, since most science fiction and fantasy was written by men for men there was little to no "romance" included. My, how times have changed.

For a long time reading was my escape from the real world, a place I could go where the good guys and gals always won, a place where I could forget about bullies, babies, and bills.

When I was in high school I took a creative writing class and fell in love with the process of putting the people that lived in my head on paper. For a short, extremely short period of time, I thought about becoming a writer. But back then the only career that involved writing, at least according to the teachers at my school, was journalism. So in college I dutifully majored in English. I suffered through numerous journalism classes before I realized that I HATED having to write nothing but the facts.  Somehow it never occurred to me that I could write books without having first been a reporter. It seemed like every novelist I read about started as some kind of reporter, so I gave up my dream of being a writer and got a "real" job.

Fast forward about twenty years and I'm a wife and mother with two young sons. I still read voraciously, squeezing the time in between child care, a part time job, cooking and cleaning. To satisfy my creative urge I do needlepoint, paint, and almost every kind of art and craft known to womankind.

One day my husband teased me about all the Harlequin novels I read, saying in jest that I should write one myself. The creative flame I'd tried to snuff out flared to life. I sat down and started what I thought would be a short contemporary romance. It turned about to be a sci-fi adventure story about a winged telepathic alien who stows away aboard a passing space ship and saves humanity. I wrote the entire book in less than three months then spent the next three years learning how to write. Though I love the story and the characters that book will never be published. In addition to borrowing way too heavily from Star Trek: Next Generation, I made every mistake a newbie writer can make. The book is hidden under my bed guarded by killer dust bunnies. As I polished my writing skills I stopped worrying about polishing my furniture, hence the killer dust bunnies.

But for every upside there's a downside. As my writing skills increased I found my enjoyment in reading decreased. When I began writing my muses were already active, but my inner critic had yet to show up.

My muses live in the attic of my mind. When I'm in the creative process these beautiful, energetic ladies with their wild imaginations leave their aerie and join me in my office to inspire and excite me.

Then there's my internal editor, a crabby old hag who once I started to learn the art and craft of writing showed up to keep me on the straight and narrow. She skulks in the dark, dank basement part of my mind. She likes nothing better than to creep upstairs and butt in while the muses are helping me create. She criticizes every idea we come up with. She lambasts my prose. She deletes whole scenes and laughs at my characters' dialogue. She nags me about point of view and questions every word. Nothing I do is good enough for her. Though usually she's right and she can be helpful during the revision process, having her in the room while I'm trying to create is devastating. Sometimes she irritates my muses so much they flee and writing grinds to a halt.

It took me a long time, but I finally learned to lock her out of the room while I'm with my muses and only listen to her when I'm ready to edit and revise. But when I'm reading my muses hide out in the attic. I guess they don't want to be accused of borrowing other people's ideas. Without them around I can't seem to quiet my inner critic. She sits on my shoulder whispering in my ear about how a scene should have been written. She points out point of view slips, clunky narrative, stilted dialogue, poor grammar and typos. It doesn't matter how many times I shoo her out of the room and close the door so I can immerse myself in the story and enjoy the experience, like an evil fog she slips back in and starts up again.

Fortunately there are some authors who with their beautiful prose, wonderful characters, fabulous settings and intriguing plots render my inner critic speechless. I both bless and curse these authors, for while they provide me with the reading experience I crave they also give my inner critic lots of ammunition to use against me the next time I sit down to write. Because she knows I'll never be as good and doesn't hesitate to tell me so.

So how do you find a way to silence your inner critic?


About author Elysa Hendricks

After trying her hand at a variety of careers, insurance underwriter, video storeowner, home day care and cleaning houses, Elysa Hendricks, a longtime reader sat down to write a short contemporary novel. When her heroine turned out to be a winged, telepathic alien, Elysa decided she enjoyed writing stories set in different places and times.

While living in north east Illinois she helped found the Windy City Chapter and the Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal Chapters of Romance Writers of America and taught workshops on writing at writer's conferences and at local community colleges. Recently relocated to central Ohio she's happy to be part of the COFW family.

Someday she dreams of writing on a laptop while sitting on a tropical beach. In the meantime she keeps warms during Ohio's chilly winters by creating sizzling love scenes.


Star Crash by Elysa Hendricks

When Planet of the Apes meets Star Trek what's a girl to do?

After recon pilot Cora Daniels crash lands on an alien planet she finds herself a prisoner of the Flock: a race of birdlike humanoids. Trapped in their zoo she discovers they intend her to mate. To breed. To be part of their human herd.

She's placed in a cage with a man - a powerful, virile man, but not just any man - Alexander. Was he her lost love, who'd disappeared so long ago? Here he was: naked, glistening, a warrior trained by the Flock to fight for their amusement. How could the brilliant man, the tender lover she remembered have become this animal born to dominate and destroy? Was he a pawn of the Flock or would their flight to freedom be a long-sought reunion?

Buy on Amazon for Kindle


  1. Hi Alexia & Ritesh,

    Thanks so much for having me to visit.


    1. Hey Elysa :) Only a pleasure! Love your post :)

  2. I know what you're saying, Elysa. I rarely finish a book I'm reading because either: A) it gooses my muses into wanting to write something or B) the critic says, "are you kidding me?" I miss the days when I didn't know about POV shifts, backstory, or weak conflicts. I just knew if I liked the book or not. Ignorance can indeed be bliss, eh?

  3. Hi Elysa,
    I, too have fastforwarded twenty+years from a voracious-reading young person to a writer(and find it's hard not to crit books as I read!!)Try to read trusted authors who's work is solid while you're in the depths of a WIP...and at other times read the e-fluff which is most likely in a crittable state!! And have you, as a multi-tasking wife/mother/career person discovered audiobooks? Less critting is required and *reading* can be done as you perform tasks which don't require an attentive mind (housework, cooking, gardening, exercising)
    Chloe Blaire

  4. Lisa,

    Back when I hadn't yet started writing, I didn't know what I didn't know. Now, I can't unlearn the "rules." I bless those authors (and you're one of them) who write so well I can forget I'm a writer for a few minutes and just immerse myself in the story. :-)

  5. Hi Elysa,

    Are you kidding? Send that hag some flowers! She's doing you a great favor. One of the things I credit to my mostly-otherwise-useless fiction writing MA is my ability to see how other authors do what they do. It's lit crit, but from a writer's point of view.

    Sure, it's severely limited my ability to read junk novels, so that I don't put any more dents in the plaster by throwing a book across the room -- but I'm not sure that's such a bad trade-off.

    It does make my question some of my friends' reading tastes, though. (Friend: "Here, read this book -- I loved it!" Me, two chapters in: "Dear gods, this is a pile of steaming excrement. What on earth did Friend see in it?")

  6. Lynne,

    Good points, but my inner critic doesn't like flowers or candy.

    Most people's reading tastes are subjective, except for my inner critic. She doesn't like anything. I don't think she even likes me - much. :-) So in order to enjoy reading at all I have to banish her from the room.

    Her sole job in life is to harangue and make me as miserable as she can. Fortunately in the process she helps me improve my writing.

  7. Elysa, it is hard to quiet the muses, but I've learned to tell them to just be quiet until I've finished a first draft if I am writing, or to let me just enjoy the story if I am reading for fun!

  8. Ann,

    I don't have trouble with my muses. Sometimes they can be shy and elusive, but they're sweethearts. They enjoy reading as much as I do. It's my inner critic that's real bitch. :-)

  9. Elysa,

    I am very glad that this issue is one (of the few) I've avoided in the transition from voracious/eclectic reader to author/reader. I (usually) can set aside my personal preferences as a writer to let the author guide me where they want me to go. I've always been an analytical soul, and read that way from an early age, so my analytical side is busy wondering why this choice/this method/this technique even as I read along waiting for it all to make sense. I do find books where the authorial choices don't make sense. This won't make me upset (their world, their rules). Usually. It just makes me less eager for the next book by an author I don't "get." One way to silence your personal inner critic is to pretend you're on a tour led by someone else. You may not like some of the tour leader's choices, but you assume she has a reason for it, and you might as well see it through to the end to figure out why she made the choices she did. Of course, if the tour is *that* bad, you should get off the bus and find a new tour.

    It also helps that there is no unbreakable rule for writer's except Tim Gunn's inimitable advice: "Make it work."

  10. I agree. I enjoyed a book twelve times moe when I couldn't see the flaws. Now, I have street lights going off all over the place as I read.
    I will say I'm reading Star Crash now and that first scene made me curl up in my chair. I couldn't read fast enough. I realized my heartbeat had kicked up by the time it ended. Not my normal genre to read, love to watch, but you will remain on my read list.

    Cora Blu

  11. Aw, Cora Blu, you're so sweet. :-)

    I try and follow Somerset Maugham's advice. "There are three rules to writing. Unfortunately no one knows what they are." However, my inner critic isn't so discerning. She hates just about everything and butts in even when she's not invited. :-)

  12. I recently read two books by an author I used to love. I first read her some fifteen years ago and the stories were fantastic; I fell into the worlds she created and never surfaced until I got to 'the end'. Recently I bought two more of her books; they had been out of print for awhile and I was ecstatic to find used copies online. I plunged in - and was brought up short again and again.

    Head-hopping POVs. Unrealistic dialogue. Flat characters. Plot loopholes. Deus ex machina.

    Reading from the perspective of a writer who critically examines her own and others' writing on a daily basis has all but ruined recreational reading for me. The suspension of disbelief is getting harder and harder to achieve.

    So no, I have no answers to the problem of the silent critic. Thank goodness there are still writers out there who are so skilled their stories induce my inner critic from hell to slink off to her cave and leave me alone once in awhile.

  13. My hubby's answer to this problem (even though he's never been much of a reader and doesn't write) is to watch movies and TV instead of reading. :-) He prefers stories where things blow up. When I watch with him my inner critic has a hard time being heard over the noise. :-)

  14. I have a handful of authors whose prose makes me forget I'm a writer too. I treasure them. They give my inner editor a much needed rest.

  15. I've noticed that when I read, I'm noticing the way an author puts the story together, sometimes the word choices, and the overall voice and flow of a book. My inner critic must be pretty mild because I still love to read as much as I used to, even when I'm writing. (I was recently inspired by a book I was reading to write a story I've been wanting to write for over a year.) Maybe I'm not as experienced as some or as formally trained, and maybe that works in my favor. My inner critic likes to come out only when I'm writing--then she's a complete bitch. ;) And my muses are elusive, sometimes leaving me for months on end with nothing, at which time I devour books and continue to learn from the greats (IMO; not to mention learning from their several editors and publishers). So I have no new advice about the inner critic, but wish you luck, Elyse. Your book sounds very good, too; will have to pick it up. :)