Inside Story or Out of the Loop?

You hear stories from time to time of famous writers or famous composers – or whomever – and how some popular book or piece of theirs was something they personally didn’t like very much, or conversely, how some obscure, unpopular creation was their favorite even though it never took off. It makes me wonder if it is possible for artists and musicians and authors to have real perspective on their own work.

Of course, if they don’t, it might not necessarily mean they don’t have a valid perspective. It could just mean they know things no one else does or can, that perhaps their view of the work itself might be altered by the larger story of the genesis of the idea, of the where’s and the when’s and the how’s of its creation.

I’m not a famous author, by any means, but I’ve noticed this a bit myself in interactions with readers over the years. My impression has been that by and large, my readers prefer the first book in my series, The Binding of the Blade, whereas I have a strong preference for the last book. To an extent I get it, as the first book in a series you enjoy is often a sentimental favorite, because it introduces you to a world and characters you enjoy, but on the other hand, I just can’t see it, as All My Holy Mountain is the culmination of all that series had been about.

As another example, I noticed today that my most recent Indie release, The Raft, The River, and The Robot had its second review at Amazon, which excited me until I saw it was only a 2 star review. I will admit to reading with some consternation as someone who claimed to be a big fan of my other work talked about how there was little or no story there and that he/she couldn’t recommend the book.

In my opinion, R3 is one of the best things I’ve done, right up there with even AMHM, and while I knew there’d be people who didn’t like it as much as I did, it was a little jarring to see that strong dislike. It made me wonder, do I just not have perspective?

So I turn to you, readers. Any thoughts out there? Not on R3, but on the larger question. Are musicians, artists and authors just too close to their work? Are they incapable of true perspective? Are they biased by their inside stories or simply out of the loop on the real value of their own creations?

What say you?

18 thoughts on “Inside Story or Out of the Loop?

  • I know what you mean. This happens to me a lot: I will turn in a story. The first editor will say, “I really liked,” and he or she will name some particular line, “that was the best part.” I usually have an idea what that part will be, but not always. Then, the story will get through the second editor, and that line will be completely deleted out of the story because the second editor didn’t like it. And I’m like, what the heck? Point is, people are stupid. WAIT! I mean, different people like different things, and trying to predict what they’ll like will drive you crazier than you already are.

  • Yes!!
    I can never really enjoy reading my work, because I’m always thinking about how to improve it. If someone else see is and says, “That’s amazing?” I’ll go, “Really? doesn’t sound that great to me.”

    I’ve never actually finished something to my satisfaction so I don’t know how this applies to your final composition, but I imagine a similar feeling persists.

  • I do think that musicians/authors/artists can be their own worst critics sometimes, and that might help explain the phenomena where they dislike something of their own that others like, but what about the opposite? At the end of the day, I do tend to like my own stories – not always every part of their execution, and certainly not equally, but I do like them. Still, I like some more than others, and it does intrigue me how my take sometimes/often doesn’t match that of my readers.

    And by the way, Matt, how crazy do you think I am?

  • I think writers have a different perspectuve. They know more about the characters, the world, and the background of the story because they made it up. You know what story you are trying to tell. Since you already know more about your story, it is difficult to know exactly what it is like for your readers.
    Does that make any sense?
    Like Joraiem. You had more information and had a different perspective than all your readers who had only known him.
    So, I guess, at least sometimes, you have a different perspective.

    I still look forward to reading R3 and hopefully, relativly soon, you will have a third, more favorable review on Amazon.

  • I wonder if there’s a difference here in something that’s great in a broad sense and something that’s great in a narrow sense. AMHM was the epic end to an epic-er story. The end made my wife cry, in a good way. R3 is great in a narrower narrative sense. On its own maybe it’s a better idea (though I don’t necessarily think so) than AMHM but you can’t compare the two. It’s like the difference between a great season and a great game. People will be more excited over a great season than a great game, but that doesn’t mean the game wasn’t great.

  • I think it’s fairly hard for artists to judge or enjoy their work. I think it’s safe to say that the task of crafting the final product often takes time, and that time breeds such a degree of intimacy with the work, that it’s very hard to objectively judge it.

    I think often it’s hard to separate one’s experience of toiling in the creative process and actually enjoying the product. At least for me, it’s hard to turn of the mechanism of defending the reasoning of my work when I read it. In that capacity, I never savor it. When I go to critique it, I always end up defending it.

    I’d wager many authors/painters/musicians are pretty over critical, and can’t even concede the positives of their work. I’ve showed stories of mine I considered trash to others, and have got overwhelmingly positive feedback. The bits I thought were the worst parts often are what people like the most.

    Just my thoughts.

  • Yes, I do think we have difficulty with critical distance, and perhaps that affects us in both directions – sometimes disliking things that have come off pretty well, and maybe at other times loving things that we didn’t quite execute as well as we thought we did…

  • Hey, I finished R3 yesterday. I enjoyed it immensely. The end did seem a bit abrupt. Are you planning a sequel? Not that it necessarily needs one, just wondering. Of course it wasn’t as abrupt as Beyond the Summerland, nothing could be really, and it wasn’t as tragic. It was a touching story in many ways. I liked HF.

  • I think R3 is a story that is definitely open to more exploration, though I don’t have a specific sequel planned. I like semi-open endings, since it give the reader some opportunity to let their own imaginations run wild, but also since it leaves the door open for the author to continue the story if inspiration strikes.

    Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Hey, I like All My Holy Mountain the best of the series! (Though all of them are top-notch, of course!)

    Anyway, we as writers and artists tend to get so attached to a certain way of “seeing” that we lose the ability to see our project as if for the first time. As an artist, this happens to me all the time. It’s why I have to constantly flip my drawing/painting or hold it up to a mirror to “reset” my vision and find where the problem areas are. If I neglect to do this, I may think my work is a masterpiece, and then get surprised when other people don’t like it the way I do.

  • I believe we are def. biased to our own work as it unfolds…for me, in the studio. Almost before the song is finished I start making my own opinions on whether this will be a standout track on a cd or what’s known as a “filler”. None of us want to throw in “fillers”, but we can’t always write exactly what our fanbase expects, wants, desires because they change as we do. BTW LB, I loved R3 and thought it was a great take on the original with alot of your own take in it as well! Loved the Providence…and believe in Him also…that angle was great!

  • Okay, so I’ve actually been dying to post on this for a while, but haven’t felt worthy without finishing R3…
    Now that I’ve accomplished that, I’m excited to share a few thoughts. (Regardless, I suppose, of their actual insight πŸ˜› )

    As a composer and songwriter, I’d like to go off of what Shane said about that “filler” anticipation…while preparing to record a full album in a couple weeks, I’ve consulted a few friends (and of course, my fellow band-mates) about what songs really stick out to them, and thus, how to record and organize them well. Each song and opinion is so different…for example, there are a couple that I have anticipated being more personal and less accessible; one was described as being fairly shallow and very accessible, the other became a huge favorite. At the same time, my most shallow song for the album has been seen by several as extremely refreshing and fulfilling.

    In reference to R3, I find agreement and insight from knowing your attachment to it. There’s a certain line the reader crosses, I suppose, when you present such a unique idea successfully enough to draw someone in. As such, in my opinion, R3 is like an unforgettably unique one-act play, strange as that may sound. It contains one line/idea that carries the plot through and contains the experience nicely, while giving plenty of intrigue.
    BOTB, by comparison, has many lines; it is much more multifaceted, an epic story full of various themes and ideas all capable of drawing the reader in.

    R3, for better or for worse, is another glance into your writing style and creativity, your world; and I think there’s something truly amazing about that.

    To close, there’s a friend of mine that has never enjoyed any of my music much at all. Somewhat recently, this person heard one of my newer songs and actually liked it…but, funny enough, for reasons that were antithetical to the attitude with which I approached the song. Either way, I realized then that in a funny way, my song had unintentionally found the one way to bridge a connection to my music; it had served a purpose that I not only didn’t intend, but couldn’t accomplish.

    The beauty of it is, we are so much like our imaginations, bound not by the forms which they take, but certainly in and out of struggle and alliance with them, fighting to express this desire of something beyond ourselves. It is a gracious and loving Providence, then, that can provide even yet brief and imperfect windows of all kinds through which others can look and see such things.

    As always, thanks for continuing to share your creativity with us, L.B. πŸ™‚

  • LB, I loved R3. I will admit that it has been so long since I read Huck Finn that beyond the name, I really didn’t get a lot of the references. But I thought the story was really well written, and I thought the characters were really well developed.

    I can’t wait for more!

  • Graham, thanks for you thoughts & insights – and glad to hear your are recording an album. Hope that goes well for you (and your band?)

    Lynn, sounds like R3 worked then, as my hope was always that the story would be strong enough and clear enough to stand alone, and that the Huck Finn connections would merely add depth for those who knew/liked that story.

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