For my 17th wedding anniversary (for some weird reason, I thought we’d been married longer), my husband and I decided to attend the comedy festival in our local area to celebrate having survived marriage this long. I love me some humor—good stuff. Better than a movie anytime. And what’s not to like about watching 24 stand-up comedians compete against one another ? Nothing. That’s what. Pure goodness.
As I watched this comedy show unfold, I realized something—it takes a lot of cajones to stand in front of a theater full of people, all alone on a stage. It has to be nerve wracking to say the least. I mean, a room full of people who will either laugh at your jokes or stare at you in silence. Tough. AND, not only that, some of those comedians were freaking hilarious! Brought down the roof. What if you had to follow a super funny guy with your mediocre act? Frightening.
There were a couple of comedians that had me in tears, eye water running down my face and stinging my eyes. I just about peed my pants they were THAT good. Seriously, they were awesome.
Then there were a few that didn’t even make me laugh once. Not once. Their acts were either so stupid or so vulgar I couldn’t find it funny. But here’s the thing, even though I didn’t laugh, there were audience members who did. Every single comedian who walked on stage got some type of laughs from the audience—some more laughs than others—but no one was booed or heckled.
Now, there was this one dude who’s act consisted of him coming on stage dressed head to toe in winter/ski wear. We had no idea what the guy looked like. He didn’t say a word, just held up various signs with his jokes on them. One said, “My act isn’t for everyone.” Then the next card said, “Especially the blind.” That was sorta funny. But then everything went downhill from there. His posters became messed up, out of order, and upside down. He tried frantically to fix it, but couldn’t. He ended up running off stage before his time was up. Poor guy.
Then, when all the comedians were through, the judges in the audience tallied up the scores and presented to us the top five comedians with the highest ratings. As I listened to the names read aloud and watched the comedians come on stage, NOT one of the comedians who about made me pee myself was in the top five. Not one. Some of the five were good but a couple of them I actually questioned, “Why? Why them? Why THAT guy?” I didn’t get it. I still don’t. The winner of the competition I wanted to throw a tomato at. Even my husband wondered about it.
So to relate this experience to writing and presenting your work either for critique or review, keep the following in mind: IT’S ALL SUBJECTIVE. Underline that. Print it out and tape it to your wall. It’ll make you feel good to do so. Believe you me.
Even though some of the comedians weren’t funny in my eyes, they went on to win. The comedians I loved never made it into the top. I don’t even know what their scores were. Again, it’s all subjective. What one person hates, another will love.
Just like the comedian with the sign that said, “My act isn’t for everyone,” your writing/story/novel is the EXACT same way. You think everyone will love your work? Just try sending out a bunch of query letters and see how many agents pound down your door to represent you. Go ahead. Give it a go.
It’s all subjective. Even literary agents will say this in their rejection forms to you.
Here’s an example for you of subjectivity: I went to a writer workshop in which one of the presenters talked about a novel she had submitted to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest two years ago. Her novel made it all the way to the top 50 final novels (out of 5,000 submitted). That’s pretty dang good. So, this last year she decided to submit the same novel again. This time, she made it past the first round of cuts but not the second and her reviews (everyone gets feedback) wasn’t very nice at all. She was a farm girl. Grew up on a farm. Raised animals and all that jazz, and wrote a book based on a kid growing up on a farm. One reviewer went on to say something to the affect that the author had no business writing about farming since it was evident she had no experience in farming. Seriously?
So what changed? The novel was exactly the same. It was the people reviewing it that changed. Different people. Different ideas and opinions. The author took it with a grain of salt and actually laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.
It’s all subjective, people, every bit of the writing process, and every writer needs to keep that in mind.
Should that keep you from having your work reviewed and critiqued by others? Heck no. You have to put yourself out there. How else would you know if what you do works or not?
Imagine a comedian who only practices his stand up routine in his bedroom in front of his mom. He may be hilarious, he may be a complete flop, but until he steps on stage and shares his works with others, he’ll never know for certain. How will he ever get better?
For those of you who have submitted your work to us for reviews, I say kudos to you. You have cajones. It takes guts and I commend you for it. I really do.
For those of you who haven't, why not? What do you have to lose in trying to win us Hook'ers over? We don't heckle here. That's not our style.
And remember, even if you didn't hook us, it's all subjective anyway.
What do you think? Have any examples of how writing is all a matter of subjectivity? Any words of encouragement you can give to new writers? Comments rock my world, so please feel free to leave one.
Angela Scott—The Reluctant Hook’er