Writing Your Own Hate Mail

Last month, I finished reading the sequel to a book I’d been looking forward to for a couple years. I wanted to see what other people thought of it when I finished it because I was having trouble putting words to my own opinion. Yeah, and I’m supposed to be a writer. Go, Me! This is the review I read that made me nearly wet myself from laughing and also really got me thinking.

I realized that I don’t ever want to read a review like that about my own work. As funny as it is, it’s not flattering to the writer because the reviewer is really tearing apart things that were frighteningly obvious. The writer failed on several parts, and he made readers angry enough that they spent God knows how much time telling the world why and how he disappointed them.

Weeks later, I finally thought of a way this could be useful before you have something out in the world, naked and exposed. So I wrote my own hate mail. I was formulaic about it. I wrote how pissed I was that the writer (that’s me) failed with character X. I pointed out how he did a miserable job executing each storyline and how his subplots were meaningless distractions from the main plot that I already didn’t give half a damn about. I told him how I wanted  to love certain parts of the story, but his incompetency prevented me from doing so because of example A and example B.

It felt so good. Being angry at myself was such a relief. This is the outlet I needed. I knew where the story was falling apart, but it seemed like such a daunting task to fix those broken pieces that I’ve felt powerless the past couple weeks. I needed to get out my own aggression before I could proceed.

Once you have a finished piece, try and write two hate mail letters. You’ll be writing as an intelligent reader who knows how to take apart a story. You’re not allowed to write, “this book sux as bad as twilight, man, i just thought it was lame and had emo shit on every page and i felt like i couldn’t go on and it was making me all emo reading it and why were there no frackin’ unicorns?!” Okay, fine. Write that once if if makes you feel better or at least makes you laugh so you can be in a good objective mood. Then, you’re going to write either two letters, or one letter in two parts, depending on how many angry voices you have in your head:

Letter/Part I: “This writer failed me because I don’t give a rat’s ass wart about the characters.” This awesome headline is followed up with why the reader is angry at you for writing unbelievable characters, characters for whom we have no sympathy, flat, cardboard characters, and any other example of how you disappointed the reader with your story’s cast. Be honest. I know you’re actually in love with your main character. If he/she were real, you’d have 47 children together and cleverly name them with the same first letter. Take a step back and see how the idyllic love of your sad existence really came across in the story, as well as all of the supporting cast. No Oscars are being given out here–you’re flinging mud with rocks hidden inside.

Letter/Part II: “This book sucks festered monkey armpits because all fourteen story lines don’t go ANYWHERE!” Here, you’re going to very brutally go through the plot(s) and hammer at the main weak points. You’re going to say where you have no idea where the writer was going, you’ll berate the cretin for writing  unnecessary scenes that make you think of clever new forms of suicide, you’ll say what you wish happened instead of what actually did transpire in your steaming pile of words,  and express  your utter disappointment in how the one or two good parts of the story couldn’t save the whole piece because of a quick list of examples on shoddy execution.

Do this. You can even print them and stare at the hate you created. Maybe it’ll just make you angrier at yourself, but for me, it let me finally get the emotion out so I could get to the important work of debugging my mess.

2 Comments Writing Your Own Hate Mail

  1. Caitlin Lamphear

    I think this it’s important as writers to be as tough as we can on ourselves. You’re absolutely right– our readers are going be 1000 times tougher and more critical and it’s important that we do our best to keep the contract we make with them when we originally set out to give them a good story. They want great characters, an interesting plot, and they deserve to come away satisfied and feeling like they learned something new. I’m glad you’re looking critically at yourself, because our readers deserve nothing less than the best.
    However, please don’t go to extremes. Your writing is often much better than you think it is. While your eye may be critical, it is not objective. Please listen to your writing group and your heart when you hear that they love what you’re writing, and are interested to know where the next chapter will lead. There’s a reason you fell in love with these people you’re writing about, and just remember that. It will help you to write them more passionately.
    Basically what I’m saying is, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You have something great here. You weren’t born with this gift for nothing. For all the time it takes us for our writing to measure up to our own standards we will probably be miserable. But remind yourself that you are writing good things. Because you are.

    Love you!

    Reply

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