In my last How to be a reader post, Emily M. asks, "If any book is a good book, as long as it has an audience, what's the point of craftsmanship? Why wrestle with every word? Why bother to take a red pen to the adverbs? Why not be satisfied with the first or even the fifth draft, instead of the twentieth?...So, again: why do you write the way you do, if your books, by your own standard, would be good no matter how they were written, as long as they had a reader who loved them?"
Great followup question, Emily. My best answer is, because it would matter to me. Again, it always comes back to writing for my internal reader. I could never write for a market. I wouldn’t know how to write a word. There are some writers who can do that, write formula fiction, write media tie-ins, Nancy Drew books, etc. More power to them. There’s a place for that. But I can’t. There’s a certain amount of faith it takes to be a writer, faith that if you can find the story that you would want to read, then there will be others who will want to read it too. But if you’re writing a book you don’t even like or think is very good, what are the odds that anyone else will?
This is a TOUGH marketplace. As a writer, you can never measure yourself to other books, never write something less than spectacular and then say, “Well, it’s better than some stuff.” Good luck getting that published. Good luck finding readers who will fall in love with that story.
I do believe that the qualifiers “good” and “bad” can only be decided by each reader. What is good for one is bad for another. As a writer, I can only write what is good for me. It’s worth it to me to pour months and years into a book and do dozens of drafts to get it just right because the reason I write is to please myself. After my books are published, no matter the reviews or reader response, ultimately I am happy with them. That’s a great feeling. But pleasing myself isn't enough--after I reach that milestone, I want to share my story. Something about the creative arts makes us want to share. But how could I feel good about sharing my work if I didn't think it was my best?
It’s possible that if I did give up on draft 5 and called it good that I would still have readers who loved the book. But I doubt I could have as many. I have no data to support that, but I think of it like this--have you ever seen a play or movie where you could just feel from the actor that they didn’t like the lines they were speaking? That they didn’t get the character, that they were going through the motions? I think that’s how it would be to read a book by an author who wasn’t pleased with it. I’ve read books I didn’t like but could still respect because I felt like the story was complete for someone, that the author had a good time with it or poured their souls into it. Worse is a half-a-book that nobody loved. Am I getting too metaphysical here? I don’t think this is all scientific. Readers do half the job telling the story, and writers do half. There’s dialog there, an exchange, a relationship. It’s a beautiful thing I never want to take lightly.