No one wants to see themselves as unfair. And certainly no one wants to see themselves as foolish. Yet there are times and situations in which we find ourselves where we can or do seem one or the either. On the rare occasion, we actually can seem both…simultaneously.
The potential for this in writing books for others to read is evident to any who have written and to many who read. At times, particularly intense or stressful times, it is hard to find the line between fair and foolish. In situations, the line is as clear as a sunny day but far more often, that balanced line is as murky as the muddy Mississippi after a hurricane.
We think, as writers, that we’re being too obvious, too fair, and yet when others read what we’ve written, their feedback is as diverse as we were mixed-minded in the writing. Some feel we were too fair, some just fair enough and some foolishly fair and our handling diminished the suspense or the message in the book.
To prove the just-right line floats from person to person, I went to an online retailer and read all the reviews on five current bestsellers. Then I went to a second retailer and read all the reviews on the same five books. To be sure I had a strong cross-section of reader responses, I went to a third retailer and read all the reviews available on those same five books.
The results were exactly as expected. Some readers liked one thing, some another, and a few others liked absolutely nothing. The floating line of striking that balance was evident. And it proved what writers have intuitively known:
Readers are diverse, and writers are diverse, and both groups should be grateful for it. Otherwise, we’d need one writer and one book and that’d be the end of it. We’d lose all the opportunities to mentally stretch and grow, to experience another point of view, a different experience, but we’d be affirming our personal tastes. That actually sounds kind of boring and as if we’ve closed off doors in our minds, doesn’t it? Well, if that was the way this worked out, that’d be an accurate assessment, because we would have shut those mental doors and robbed ourselves of possibilities to see things differently.
But because readers and writers are diverse, some will love the stories we write, some will hate them, and (this strikes most fear in writers’ hearts) some will be indifferent. Loving or hating is great. Something in the book moved the reader. But Indifference stings and wounds and cuts deep. The story failed to touch the reader. That’s heartbreaking for a writer, who writes because s/he has something to say that s/he wants others to hear and experience.
The results of the little experiment prove that the line between fair and foolish is fine. It has earned its rightful place. Readers of one book will not be touched, but will be deeply touched by another book. And those readers will hate, love or be indifferent to a third, fourth and fifth book.
This insight convinces us. Neither Readers nor Writers should seek all five-star reviews. Wisdom is in aspiring to a mixed bag of reviews and feedback. Love, hate, and indifference is evidence that the writer is finding the balance, walking that fine line—and doing it well.
As I write this, I’m thinking of books that have touched me deeply—both positively and negatively—and I’m searching my memory hard for books that left me feeling indifferent. I’m having trouble finding “indifferent” books, though I can’t say if that’s telling me I’m too opinionated or just normal. Maybe it means it is normal to be opinionated.
Or maybe it means Writers write books and trust that the right people will find them at the right time. What’s the right time? One when the message in the book resonates for them—a time when this specific book is exactly what the reader needs to read at that given moment, in his or her current circumstance.
I’ve written a lot of books, and I’ve always written each book for a specific purpose. My hope is infused in its pages that the book will offer something of specific value to the Reader. A takeaway useful in the reader’s own life. Sometimes it takes a while, but always someone writes me a note, an email, or a Twitter Direct Message and says the book was just what they needed… and then discloses why it was perfect for them at that time. That perfect reason relates to the purpose for which I wrote the book.
It’s humbling to receive notes like those. But it’s reassuring, too. Because the indifferent rarely write. They might post a blistering review, but they rarely message that the book did nothing for them. Those who love or hate the book are far more apt to write the author. They’re more invested in it.
In reviewing books I didn’t care for, I discovered they hit hot buttons inside me. And while that wasn’t fun, it was often helpful. It gave me the opportunity to revisit that hot button and to reevaluate on whether or not it should be a hot button. Even though I didn’t care for the experience, taking a look was a beneficial experience. I’ve ditched a lot of hot buttons. And now I wonder if that initial negative reaction wasn’t surface clutter masking a hidden great opportunity for me. One tied to spiritual and/or emotional growth.
Now that potential fascinated me. So on I went, reviewing books that left me indifferent. What I discovered was that those books just didn’t speak to me at the place I was standing at the time I read them. Later, when I reread them, some of those books did speak to me—and my second reaction was far different from the first!
And that’s the point. The fine line of balance isn’t just fine, it’s also tied to time. Our personal time. Sometimes the timing is right for us and a given book, and sometimes it’s not.
Have you looked at the books you’ve loved and hated and been indifferent to? Why did you love or hate them? Did you later react differently to a book you’d deemed indifferent? Are your feelings toward that book now relevant to you in a way not applicable during your first read?
After all these revelations on that balancing line, I’ll tell you. My attitude has changed. Some books I love and feel I’ll always love. Some, I hate for now and may or may not hate later. Some books, simply put, are just not for me. But more and more books are snagged in shades of gray. Firmly planted in the “maybe another time” zone. And of the books I reacted to with indifference, I say, “indifferent for today” and I set them aside to read again later.
Because the line between fair and foolish is thin and tied to time. Not clock time. Our time.
And it seems we really only know if we’ve walked the line or crossed it in hindsight. That means at times we will be fair and at times we will be foolish—to some—and appreciated by others whose lives we touch.
I can’t speak for all writers but the bottom-line for me, is I’m grateful. It’s a privilege to take on the challenges of being fair and foolish.