Thursday, November 24, 2005

Yes, But is it Good?

By some nasty quirk of fate, my college blockmates were able to find out that one of my short stories will be appearing in Dean Alfar's 1st Philippine Speculative Fiction Anthology. True to form, they wheedled me to the point where I couldn't really lie about the whole thing:

It's getting launched on December 10, actually. It's one of the three books getting released in a 6:30 affair at Fully Booked in Greenhills.

You're welcome to pass by, although I'd recommend just buying the book and telling me whether you liked the story or not. :)

Consequently, one of the responses I received from the mailing list went as follows:

I might not be able to pass by on December 10. But I will try to pick up the book when I come across it. I'm sure the story is good. You wouldn't allow it to get published if it wasn't.


I can't help but think that that's more than a little optimistic.

That's not to say that I don't appreciate the gesture. In fact, I do appreciate it, and I'm happy to see that my writing actually does get a bit of support in some quarters.

But that's where the hitch comes in: I don't know if the story's good or not.

It might sound strange, yes, but that's how I look at it: I don't know if the story's good or not. Ergo, I may or may not believe that it's good enough to get published. All that matters to me is that I was able to write the silly thing, and if somebody out there thinks that it's good enough to print, then so much the better: I get access to more people who can tell me what they think.

But to say that it's in the anthology because I thought that it was good enough to go into the anthology? Absolute hooey. When Dean Alfar's deadline came about, it was the only five-thousand word story I had that contained the slightest bit of redeemability. I believe that that's the only reason why I sent it in when I did.

I hoped that it would make it, of course. You don't submit works like these without some sliver of expectation that they might make it to the final volume. But if I were to tell you that I thought it was an incredible piece of work to begin with, then I'd be lying.

I think that we all eventually have to face a certain truth: No matter how good we think our writings are, our opinion doesn't mean squat when it comes to the tastes of the general public. We can have what we think is the greatest plotline in the world, the best characters ever conceived and the most profound setting that can ever be imagined, and that still won't protect us from the erstwhile critics who accuse us of being "cliché", "wordy", "simple", or even the inevitable "boring".

We just write, darn it. We write, we turn in our works, and we wait for a response. If by some miracle it turns out that our stuff is worthy of being published, then that doesn't mean that we're good. It means that we just happened to do something right.

Writing, unfortunately, isn't a matter of thinking that you're good at this sort of thing. Writing is a constant struggle: You don't merely want one of your works to get published and praised, you want a whole slew of your works getting published and praised. You want a straight string of hits. You want to know what makes your style readable. You want to know how to get into the groove and stay there.

The big guns -- the authors and artists we all know, love and admire -- all probably know this. They may have six or seven straight bestsellers, Academy awards or platinum records to their name, but if their next work tanks, then it tanks. It's JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion. It's Halle Berry's Catwoman. It's Michael Jackson's Invincible.

We just write, ladies and gentlemen. That, I believe, is the truth at its core.

We write, and of course, we anxiously wait -- to see what the audience thinks of us this time.


gumdrop said...

Don't worry Sean, I like your stories and your writing style. And I knew you were writing something that Dean Alfar is asking you but I didn't know it would be for a book! Kudos! :)

Dominique said...

We are our own worst critics, I'm afraid. Either we think our work is very good, or we think it's very bad. Learn to let go.

banzai cat said...

Congrats man. :-)

Gotta say, truer words were ever spoken. (Or is that never spoken?) I especially understand what you said about submitting something that had 'redeemability.'

Though I have to admit, I liked Silmarillion. But then again, I loved reading Revelations over and over again when I was a child. All that gloom and doom...

Sean said...

Gumdrop: Yeah, events turned out better than expected. Every dog has his day, I suppose.

Dominique: Let go, yes. But what's a man to do when a "bad" work turns out to be "good" to the rest of the public? Or vice-versa? It's enough to make your head explode...

Banzai Cat: I still like reading the book of Revelations myself. I admit that I haven't read The Silmarillion, but I know that a number of critics have described it as "dry and sawdusty", and that its sales figures are far below those of the primary Lord of the Rings novels.

jeff-reiji said...

Isa lang ang masasabi ko dude,

"Ang manunulat ay kasing galing lang ng kanyang huling obra maestra".

- Lualhati Bautista

(I don't know if that's the exact words. But I know I got the gist of her point.)

3sha said...

hey text me if you're going to Fully Booked, I wanna be there too! ^_^

jeff-reiji said...

dude, need your honest opinion about my upcoming article... feeling ko garbage siya... tnx a lot! :)

Sean said...

Reiji: Yeah, you pegged it there. It's a good quote.

The pre-Christmas work rush has taken its toll on my outside activities, I'm afraid. I only just wrote a review for a short story last night, and it was two weeks late. I'll try to get to your article as soon as I can, but I can't promise anything at the moment...

3sha: I'm heading there. It's 6:30 pm, December 10 2005, at Fully Booked Greenhills. I owe you a copy, I think.

kat said...

One of the reasons I don't really put much of what I've written out, is that I feel it's a part of me that I've kept hidden, and if I let people read it, I'm putting myself up for ridicule. :p Sounds silly, but I guess you know what I mean. It's not an excuse for not writing though...

I hope to be able to stop by and finally meet you in person. Congrats again!

Sean said...

Kat: I've been to that mode of thought, actually, although it was way back in high school. I would write a few short stories and then keep them for my personal reading.

Eventually I came to the point where I wrote something that was supposed to be funny; Actually, it was supposed to make the reader laugh out loud. And it dawned on me, about ten minutes later, that I felt pretty pathetic being the only person in the world who was laughing at my own writing. :)

That puts where I am now, I think: I feel that we write for others to read. The ridicule may or may not be a part of it, but the writing certainly is. So you forget about the possibility of ridicule, Kat. You just write. :)