Category Archives: life

Professional critics and appropriate reviews

I’m going to apologize in advance for a small rant I’ve had brewing for a little while, and which finally came to a head with the new Mortal Instruments movie (which I have yet to see, but doesn’t matter for this post).

I’ve always liked Rotten Tomatoes. Since its earliest days I’ve checked out movie ratings there to see if something was worth watching – my time is valuable to me, and I don’t want to spend it on something I’ll find mediocre. It started out as simply a review aggregation site, summarizing the general consensus of professional critics. At some point they added a social component, that works for movies similar to how Goodreads does for books.

More and more lately I’ve found myself paying more attention to the audience rating than the critic rating as a measure of how much I’m likely to enjoy a movie. I’d often find there was a discrepancy between the two, and I tended to agree more with the audience’s view.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones came out today, and there are already plenty of ratings up on the site for it, from both critics and audience. As of writing this, this is how it looks:

TMI2

Which is a little shocking to me. Not necessarily that the critics are being so negative – that’s disappointing, but expected – but that there is such a HUGE gap between what the critics think and what the audience thinks.

The explanation, I think, is an easy one: the critics are not the movie’s target audience. I would be willing to hedge that many, if not the majority, of them are men in their 30s or 40s or 50s. The movie, meanwhile, and the series of books off which it’s based, are both primarily targeted to teen girls. I doubt there are many teen girls among the professional reviewers.

And yet, this simple fact seems to be lost to reviewers. My sister sent me this link to a review of the movie in which the reviewer comments that the story has many of the familiar tropes that appeal to teen readers (girl discovers one day that she’s had special powers that have been hidden her whole life and she’s actually part of some strange and wonderful new world and something terrible is happening and only she can save the day) as demonstrated by similarities in other successful teen movies (his examples: Harry Potter, Twilight, Percy Jackson).

And then he goes on to grouch on the movie and how unoriginal it is, picking apart all the cliches and tired themes. At the end he gives it a rating of 2.5 out of 5. And I was like, Dude – did you even listen to yourself at the start? You just finished saying how it was the sort of thing that appeals to teens. Which are, it just so happens, the target audience, not grown men like you. Why are you rating the movie based on how it appealed to you, when you’re not who it was made for?

Meanwhile, as of my screenshot, 83% of the over 18,000 people who’d rated it liked it. Probably a lot of them were teen girls. The same things the reviewer picked on as being unoriginal would’ve been the things that made the story so appealing to the target market. After all, the same thing happens with, say, action films, or superhero films – I’m not the target audience, and I think a lot of them are starting to feel tiredly familiar. I wasn’t that impressed with Pacific Rim – all fancy CGI and hero-saves-the-day and not much supporting story, I felt. But critics gave it 72% – probably because most of them are among the target audience. The sorts of people who like fancy CGI and hero-saves-the-day and will overlook lack of story if these things are done well.

I think it’s unfair of professional critics to review movies (or any other media – this same thing goes for book reviewers, or video game reviewers, for instance) for which they’re clearly not the target audience. Their review ends up saying less about the movie and more about their own place in the market. Their reviews would carry the most weight if they stuck to the ones that fit their interests and preferences – then you’d truly know whether a movie was well-done or not.

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An update on things

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted here. I’ve had a couple of tabs open in my browser for a while, and few other things bookmarked, so it’s not for lack of possible topics. It’s partly momentum – been distracted by other things, out of the habit – and partly a recent feeling that, you know, a lot of what I’m saying here has been said many times before more eloquently and/or by people better qualified to talk about it. So I’ve been reconsidering what it is I want to do with this blog, what I want it to be, why it is here. Who knew blogs suffered existential crises.

In any case, an update! Because things have been happening in the meantime, while I’ve been away pondering the meaning of blog. First, I’ve changed my pen name yet again. Minor change this time, reverting the first name back to my real one but keeping the same pen surname I was using before (thus: Seabrooke Scott). The Saybe didn’t work for most people, and I really like the uniqueness and me-ness of my actual name. And it’d be easy to respond to. :)

Second, I got the edit notes back from my agent, Rachael, on Stars at Midnight. She had brilliant and insightful comments, and I spent a few weeks working through the manuscript to make revisions accordingly. This included rewriting one of the climax scenes completely from scratch, in the other character’s point of view. I was really happy with how the new scene turned out; it’s so much better than the first version. So now it’s back in Rachael’s capable hands for a final tidy-up before going on submission.

Third, I think I’ve finally settled on my next WIP. Much as I love the world and MC’s badassity in my space story, I realized (following some input from a CP who read both for me – thanks, Tessa!) that that was primarily what I loved about it. Meanwhile, with the dragon mafia story I love the conflict and character growth and interactions and overall tone, and maybe the world’s not as sparkly or the characters as badass, but that’s okay. When I first started drafting Stars I felt pretty uncertain about it, too.

And fourth… there isn’t really a fourth. Actually, fourth: I’m disappointed that, with the finale of Game of Thrones last night, all my TV shows I watched over the winter and spring are now wrapped for the season. I really fell hard for Arrow, and of course Game of Thrones continued to be amazing through its third season, and I loved Elementary. I have a post planned talking a little more about my takeaways from them as pertains to my writing. But the quick sum: STORY. Mmm.

More anon.

Life Distractions

Back in January, as part of my New Year’s reflections, I declared that 2013 would be my Year of Happening. It wasn’t so much an intention to change any particular habits of mine as it was me putting my foot down and telling the universe that this was the way it was going to be.

Well… the universe seems to have listened, and taken it one step further, apparently deciding to designate March as the Month of Happening. Because oh my gosh, have I been busy the past few weeks. I’ve had a couple awesome opportunities come up I’ve been trying to sort out working details for (and don’t want to mention till they’re finalized in case I jinx them). At the start of March was the Blind Speed Dating contest. I’ve been beta reading a couple of manuscripts and trying to keep up with CPs. D and I are supposed to be moving at the start of April and have been house-hunting (and still don’t have a new house confirmed!). My dad is retiring in a week. And through all this I’ve been working a part-time job… full-time over March Break, for all the shifts I covered for vacationers then.

I’ve tried to fit in some writing in there, a bit. I’ve gotten started on my next story, novel #7, but in a month I’ve only managed to put down just over 9k words. (For comparison, I drafted the whole of Stars in two months.) Besides a lack of time, part of my problem this month has been stress and scattered thoughts.

I’m not one of those people, unfortunately, who can butt-in-chair and just deal with crappy bits in revisions. I wish I could do that, because it’d make writing through Life Distractions so much easier. But if I get to the end and I have a crappy manuscript, I know (from experience) I’ll just shelve it and move on to the next one; I don’t have the patience for fixing crap. So I’m careful when I’m drafting to put the thought into planning each scene before I write it so at the end I have a fairly clean first draft.

I’ve had SO MUCH to think about this month that even though I’ve still been going for my daily walks, all my thinking time has been spent on the other stuff that’s been going on and I couldn’t stay focused long enough to plan out scenes. I rather miss writing, having a project to work on in the evenings. The good news is that a lot of this Happening will be sorting itself out soon, one way or another, and things will (hopefully!) quiet down enough to let me get back to thinking about important stuff again. :)

Creating happiness

Happiness is a funny thing. It seems so eternally elusive to most people, and yet is usually so easily attainable.

I was thinking about this the other day, as I was driving home from working a near-minimum-wage shift in a local retail store, smiling, feeling utterly content. We all have ups and downs, of course, but on a daily average I’d say I feel happier now than I have been at any point in my past. This, despite that I’m also probably poorer now, struggling more financially, than I ever have been in my past. D and I live without a lot of luxuries, don’t eat out, rarely go see movies or attractions, don’t have cell phones or other technological gadgets.

In our first-world society we have a tendency to equate wealth – financial and/or material – with happiness. Without it we feel like we’re being deprived of things. And I won’t lie, I do sometimes feel that way. I’d love to be able to buy myself all the books on my to-read list, or plants for my garden, or even simply a new pair of hiking shoes when mine start getting worn.

But I’m not unhappy despite my inability to afford everything I’d like. And I attribute this to two things. First is that I spend a lot of my day doing things I enjoy. I write. I read. I walk with my dogs. I have tv shows I follow and love. I follow a great, friendly writing community. In the summer I garden, or nature-watch, or other pastimes/hobbies I enjoy. Not to mention living with a person and pets I love. Yes, I also spend some of my time doing stuff I’m not as crazy about: chores, work. But I’ve chosen to work fewer hours, make less money, and live more simply, so I can spend more time doing the things I want to be doing.

And the second thing is I’m using some of that freed time to pursue one of those things I love – writing – and work at it enough, practice it enough, become good enough at it, to turn it into a source of income. And I am in control of my destiny here: if I put in the work, if I constantly strive to improve, and I keep sending my stuff out into the industry, I know eventually someone will want to pay me for it. It’s just a matter of time. And I’m a patient person.

And so I’m happy. I spend my days doing things that I love, with a focus on a particular something that I love, and a feeling of making progress toward something I want. The proximity of the finish line isn’t important – I’m headed there, and I’m enjoying the drive.

Happiness isn’t about what we do with our money; it’s about what we do with our time. Time is a finite resource just like wealth. Make sure you spend yours on the things you love.

ETA: More thoughts on creating happiness, while I was making dinner:

Happiness is partly a mindset. It’s about learning to live more simply and enjoy simply living. It’s about learning to enjoy life’s smaller pleasures, and learning not to fret over life’s smaller problems. Learning to put yourself first, doing what you want to do, not what others want or expect you to do. To enjoy what you have, not yearn for what you don’t. To appreciate what’s given to you, not resent what’s withheld. To see change as opened windows, not closed doors. It’s about learning to work hard for the future, but be content with the present.

Making goals

I read this post over at Writerly Rejects today about achieving things by making tangible goals. The post’s author, Elizabeth Prats, differentiates between tangible goals and intangible goals. Tangible goals are the ones that you, the goal-setter, have control of. Intangible goals are obviously those you don’t.

She makes the point that if your goals are intangible – get an agent, get published – you’re much more likely to feel down on yourself as you work to reach them, because it’s hard to measure your progress. No matter how much effort you put in, you still don’t know when an agent/editor/whoever will say yes. It can feel like you’re floundering, lost.

But if your goals are tangible – finish this chapter, novel, revision – you can see progress and that makes you feel good about yourself and your progress toward your intangible goals. Okay, so you don’t know when that agent will say yes, but in order for them to be able to say yes you need for your chapter/novel/revision to be done; so having finished this chapter/novel/revision, you’re one step closer!

And I think this is so, so important to success. Because as so many have emphasized before, success isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. You want to be happy on your journey, taking satisfaction in yourself and what you’re doing, and being able to reach tangible goals is an important part of doing that.

Counting hours

That last post was starting to get a little long, so I decided to break this into its own post, but it’s a related thought. I talked about how case studies seem to indicate that you need to put in 10,000 hours to really become outstanding at something. That’s a lot of hours. I mean, seriously. I draft at 700 words an hour, on average, so assuming 70,000 words / 100 hours per book, that’d take me 100 books. Maybe by the time I’m 90?

So. Two things to add to that thought. The first is it’s worth remembering that that 10,000 hours is for the sort of incredible skill that leads to world-renowned soloists. But 8000 hours is good enough to get you into the symphony. And 4000 hours is perfectly sufficient for the more modest goal of teaching. Teaching still pays respectably and not everyone wants to be standing in the middle of the stage with all eyes trained on them.

Second is that, in most acts of creation but I think writing especially, the actual creation of the product is only one small part of bringing it to life. A novel doesn’t start and end with typing the first draft. The numbers may differ by individual, but for every three hours I spend at the keyboard drafting, I probably spend an hour plotstorming and problem-solving, while walking the dogs or driving or showering, etc. And then there’s revisions, and the thinking time that goes along with those. And more revisions. And the non-manuscript tasks that are still vital to your success: queries, synopses, even blogging and developing a discoverable online presence. When you add up all those hours, too, the target numbers are not nearly so daunting.

I personally try to spend at least a little time every day on something that will help forward my aspirations, even if it’s as minor as just thinking about a plot knot. I know the journey is going to be a long one and there’s really no shortcut around it, but if I keep my momentum moving forward, no matter how fast or slow I’m going, I know I’ll get there eventually.

10,000 hours

I’ve heard before, from some unrecalled source, that it takes about 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert at it. I don’t know how much stock I had put in that figure, other than to think well, of course, the more practice you put in, the better you’ll be at something. Turns out the story’s much more interesting.

I just finished reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. (I read The Tipping Point a couple of weeks ago. I highly recommend both books. Gladwell has a writing style that pulls you easily along, so it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a nonfiction book. The central theory of his books could easily be summarized in a short essay; the magic of his books isn’t so much in the case they’re arguing as it is the many different stories he uses to support his idea. The stories are amazing. AND they prove his point.)

So. I just finished reading Outliers. The central concept is basically that talent is only a small part of what contributes to an individual’s success. Though he never tries to quantify it himself, I might suggest the equation is something like 1 part talent : 2 parts circumstances : 3 parts opportunity : 4 parts hard work. Essentially, you put in your hard work and then when opportunity knocks you’re ready to answer the door.

In discussing this he talks about the 10,000 hours idea. What is cool is that he backs it up with examples pulled from real-world success stories as diverse as Bill Gates, The Beatles, Mozart, professional hockey players, a NYC big-shot lawyer, among others. In all these cases, he shows, the individual put in hours and hours of time and practice developing their skills. Roughly, it turns out, ten thousand hours or more.

Bill Gates spent ten thousand hours, evenings and weekends and the wee hours of the morning in some cases, programming. Much of his early hours he did on his own time, with no expectation of compensation. Simply because he loved it. When his first (pre-Microsoft) opportunity fell his way, he’d already put in so much time he was an expert at it.

The Beatles had a number of stints in Hamberg, Germany, playing seven nights a week, eight hours a night, for a nightclub. After a couple of years of this, they’d racked up a lot of hours together, perfecting their style. By the time of their first big success, they’d performed live together some 1200 times, which is more than most bands do in their whole careers. Even music students attending a premiere academy – a study showed that the ones who have the potential to end up as world-class soloists are the ones who’d put in 10,000 hours of work, give or take, by age 20; those who are symphonic-orchestra good but not soloist-good had about 8,000 hours; and those who’d eventually become music teachers or other less elite positions generally had about 4,000 hours.

Gladwell lays out half a dozen examples of breakout successes who’d put in their 10,000 hours before the opportunity arrived that either became, or lead to, the success they’re known for. It’s interesting how universal it is. Talent is only a tiny part of the equation, and it doesn’t even have to be exceptional talent – an ability for the subject is enough.

And the other interesting thing is how success doesn’t come in one fell swoop. It’s usually accomplished in stages. There’s tons of practice, first. Then a small opportunity, which the individual is prepared for because of that practice. This afford more practice, of a higher-quality nature. Which opens the door for the next opportunity. And so on, until the breakout success. But the whole time, the individual is working hard.

This reminds me of this post I did a while ago, linking to a post by Rick Riordan, talking about how “success” is never overnight, and many bestselling authors’ first published works were not actually bestsellers. For instance, The Hunger Games was Suzanne Collins’ sixth published book. Plus how many books had she written before that first one got published? There are the talented and lucky who strike it rich on their first try (*cough*Twilight*cough*), but I suspect for most bestselling authors, they’ve spent a lot of time writing before their first break-out book.

One other thing Gladwell mentions, which I want to share because it spoke to me, was how these 10,000 hours never felt like a penance to these individuals. They weren’t doing it just to put their time in so they could then become successful. They were doing it because they loved doing it. It was hard work, but it was fulfilling work, and it made them happy. From the book:

…there is complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that’s worth more to most of us than money. Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful. Being a teacher is meaningful. Being a physician is meaningful. So is being an entrepreneur … When Louis Borgenicht came home after first seeing that child’s apron, he danced a jig. He hadn’t sold anything yet. He was still penniless and desperate, and he knew that to make something of his idea was going to require years of backbreaking labor. But he was ecstatic, because the prospect of those endless years of hard labor did not seem like a burden to him. Bill Gates had that same feeling when he first sat down at the keyboard at Lakeside. And the Beatles didn’t recoil in horror when they were told they had to play eight hours a night, seven days a week. They jumped at the chance. Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.