Writing in a Vacuum is Better

- by Victoria Janssen

I’m on deadline at the moment, writing something that’s due September 1. Sometimes, being on deadline leads to procrastination (shocking, I know!), even though I’ve learned that keeping my head down and plunging in is the best way to get things done. I should probably invest in a sensory-deprivation chamber.

Sometimes, when I am on deadline, I find myself Googling my name, looking for reviews, commentary, any kind of validation of what I’ve written in the past. Even aside from the fact that I should be writing instead, I think it’s a bad idea. I need to be inside my head, not outside it. Inside is where the writing comes from. After all, I want my writing to be by me, not a reflection of other people’s opinions on stories that I can no longer change.

“Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.” –Samuel Johnson

I think writers often worry too much about how their work will be perceived, or rather, how they imagine their work will be perceived, before it’s even finished. They worry about how other writers will see their work: hackwork, work of genius, cutting-edge, supreme prose-stylist, unputdownable.

And how will readers see it? Bland, nothing new, boring, not bad, entertaining, good fluff, best book ever. “I will never read this author again!” “This author is now an autobuy!” If you’re lucky, you’ll get both opinions in the same review. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been pointed to wildly conflicting reviews of the same book. They might even both be right. A lot depends on the perspective from which the book is being viewed.

I think it isn’t generally a good thing to be too self-conscious about how one’s own prose is perceived by others, to the extent that one is paying more attention to what one imagines others will think than to what one is actually doing. Easier said than done, of course.

“Writing is like sex. The more you think about it, the harder it is to do. It’s better not to think about it so much and just let it happen.” –Stephen King

We’ll see if I can take my own advice in the future. After all, it’s my writing. It’s my opinion that matters most.

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