Let no one undermine your confidence. Including you. This is tough because not only are we usually our toughest critic, but our psyche is willing to chuck us under the bus and climb up on the bandwagon of any passing yahoo who aims their red pen our way. Happily.
It’s good to get criticism. It’s great to hear other opinions. It’s necessary to have your work dissected and investigated. In the end you have to pick your heart up from the floor, swallow back the bile of despair and put down the butcher knife before you go after someone. Sometimes the critiques that sting the most are the ones you need to inspect the hardest. They might have caught something you’ve been unable to see.
(potty mouth alert)
On the other hand, some people are just assholes. It can be difficult to tell the difference.
It feels good to get compliments but it’s important to pay attention to both positive and negative feedback. Once you get past the worst of the feelbads, it’s usually possible to see why the reviewer thought or said what they did. In certain cases you can tell right off it’s because they didn’t pay attention, were having a bad day, or someone invoked them with a careless incantation and they read your manuscript on the way to the massacre.
Don’t stew. Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. We’ve all been there. This is one of those rites of passage in being a professional writer. Consider it part of the hazing. You thought you escaped that in college but here it is again. You take your licks, keep churning out the words, and eventually you prove the lousy jerks wrong. You get an agent. You win a contest. You publish. You reject negativity and have pride in your accomplishments because you persevere. Because you ARE that good. And if you forget that little nugget of truth, send me a tweet and I’ll remind you.
Writers are survivors.
The public can argue about which survivalist group has the best chance of dusting themselves off after the apocalypse occurs (any flavor – you choose), but we know they’re ALL wrong. Writers have imagined every possible scenario. We’ve dreamed up every possible end-of-the-world situation, thrown our protagonists and antagonists into the thick of the disaster and challenged them to survive.
Then we’ve figured out how they do – we’ve created solutions, addressed trauma, and inserted twisted, absurd and ridiculous drama. We know how to locate the good water supplies, where to find the stash of extra batteries, and even concoct the secret antidote recipe (for anything and everything) made from something inane like fig leaves soaked in gin and dipped in Lousiana hot sauce.
If we can kick back and casually sort through the end of life as we know it – what’s a few snarky comments about your work-in-progress? Read the suggestions, consider the criticisms, and either nod your head or snort rude noises through your nostrils and turn the page. Trust yourself. There’s writing to get done.
What’s the worst criticism you’ve been stabbed with? What about the best praise sprinkled on your head? How’d you dust yourself off and get back in the chair?
#1 by Deborah Walker on September 7, 2011 - 11:26 am
Great advice. I find feedback difficult to process. I usually end up agreeing, but still want to do things my way. Is that good or bad? Boy am I stubborn.
#2 by Lesann Berry on September 7, 2011 - 3:06 pm
I think feedback is difficult to process, and most of the time the critiques I get are sound…but every now and then it's more a matter of "voice" or writing flavor or variation in technique and I stick to my guns, come hell or high water. If I'm wrong, then I'm going down with the ship.That's not good or bad – it's trusting our beta readers AND ourselves. Ultimately it's our work, so I think it's important to trust ourselves. Besides if it really doesn't work, chances are you'll figure that out in a later draft. Thanks for dropping by and commenting!
#3 by Alica McKenna Johnson on September 8, 2011 - 12:17 am
At one time I joined a yahoo group for critiques and some of them were cruel now I belong to a local group and while I don't agree with everything it is done with friendship and a desire to help.
#4 by Lesann Berry on September 8, 2011 - 1:50 am
I've avoided formal critique groups but I do rely on a core group of beta readers (some writers and some not, some published and some not) for checks and balances. Good criticism is valuable, people tearing down your work is not and finding that balance is usually a lengthy and complex route.I'm jumping into an intensive review group soon and am curious to see what comes of the experience.
#5 by Tameri Etherton on September 8, 2011 - 2:07 am
Potty mouth alert! That is my favorite line today. Not that this post isn't awesome, because it is, but that potty mouth warning is what I always say to my kids. Then they roll their eyes at me and say, thanks for the warning. This time. Like I don't warn them other times. Whatever.You are so right. It's hard to be a writer and put your work out there to be judged and ripped apart. I had my daughter Beta read my fantasy novel and I'll admit, I was a complete nest of nerves until she gave it back. Her insight was right on point and I took everything she said to heart. She's a huge fantasy reader and my target audience, so her critique was important to me. The fact that she loved the book, that was a bonus. A huge one! I was in a critique group a long time ago and had to quit because it became clear to me that the group leader really just wanted us to gush about her work and skimp on ours. Bummer. If you ever need something reviewed and want an honest opinion, I'm your gal. Or my daughter. She totally rocks at editing. Thanks for the reminder not to beat ourselves up over others' opinions!
#6 by Bridgette Booth on September 8, 2011 - 2:38 am
In graduate school I had a teacher who would ridicule – yes, ridicule – me and my writing in front of the class. She managed to stop me in my writing tracks for at least 6 years.Once I got a little of my mojo going again, I resolved that I'd never give someone that type of power again. No matter how poorly I may be doing, I would at least try.So, when I get negative feedback from agents, editors, or critique partners I always listen, but I never bring it into my writing heart. 🙂
#7 by Angela Wallace on September 8, 2011 - 3:07 am
I think it's all in the delivery. "This doesn't make sense to me." "This wording trips me up." I had a very unpleasant experience in a critique group. One member made his feedback an exercise in farce. It hurt to be made fun of, and made it difficult to dig down for what was actual feedback. The other members said that was just his way, but I didn't think it was productive, so I left the group, which was too bad, because some of the members were fantastic with critique–not just praises, but comments that really made me think.I just have to tell myself that I can't please everyone.
#8 by Lesann Berry on September 8, 2011 - 4:56 am
Thanks for dropping by Tameri! I find as I get older my cursing gets worse and with a little guy in the house I'm trying to learn restraint. *sigh* Of course I never swear around my mother.How awesome that your daughter reads your work and gives valuable feedback. Me too! Someday…Thanks for the offer of a read – I may well take you up on that. Critique groups and partners are tough to find. I've got a couple, but each set of eyes and experience offer something different.Good criticism is useful but lousy people just suck.
#9 by Lesann Berry on September 8, 2011 - 5:00 am
Oh, your teacher makes me so mad. Ridicule has no place in the classroom, even as humor it can be so destructive. I'm so glad you were able to recover and return to writing.This is where that whole "prove the bastards wrong" part comes into play. Listening to feedback (negative and positive) can really be helpful but not internalizing or taking it personal (which really, doesn't seem possible not to for at least a nanosecond) if healthy.I blow a juicy raspberry at that teacher and make a rude gesture on your behalf.
#10 by Lesann Berry on September 8, 2011 - 5:06 am
Angela – I really like your point that it's all in the delivery. Hammer on the nailhead, there. I sometimes evaluate online courses and providing useful feedback and critique is a big part of the value for instructors. Learning how to GIVE criticism is a skill that requires effort to learn and implement.The fellow in your critique group wouldn't have set well with me either. He may have meant to be humorous, but too often satire and irony just come across hurtful and mean-spirited. I do think it's hard not to be sensitive – it's OUR words after all, but there's almost always something positive to say about a piece of work. I find it a little easier to take a negative comment if it's prefaced with praise. That's shallow me. I love getting the praise too but after a while you realize it's just totally useless. If they could tell me why they liked something then at least I can infer the parts they didn't like and reason out why.We can't please everyone but mom sure tried to raise me to think I could. lol
#11 by Annalise Green on September 8, 2011 - 4:53 pm
Such a wonderful post! I think the fact that sometimes there are just assholes is something that every writer needs to hear. Writers get accused of being sensitive and arrogant when they don't take criticism well – and the truth is that we do need critical feedback – but assholes rarely get called out for being, well, assholes.Case in point. In a writing workshop, there was this guy that tore my pieces apart. Crossed out entire paragraphs. Wrote NO in capital letters. For one of my stories, he said the solution was to never have written it in the first place. (At the same time, in private conferences my professor told me that my work was extremely good and I needed to send it to magazines because it could be published.)You know what? That guy was an asshole to nearly everybody. He made one girl cry. And his own writing? Yeah, um, pretty horrible, to be honest, but at least I was always decent to him in my criticisms.
#12 by Lesann Berry on September 9, 2011 - 2:34 am
Thanks for dropping by Annalise. = )There's a delicate balance between being critical and offering insight, just as there is between hearing what people have to say and evaluating if that opinion has value. If I could figure out the formula I'd write an ebook and retire!Some people really get off on the red pen. The power of "marking" someone else's work is a responsibility where ego doesn't need to be involved. Angela made such an excellent point (above) about concrete suggestions being uber helpful. Like the guy in your workshop, some folks feel real important when they try to crush others. In my opinion, the best revenge is make him a character in your WIP, kill him off, get it published and feel REALLY good.I'm so glad this generated so much discussion!
#13 by quidforquill on September 11, 2011 - 8:31 pm
Honestly the worst feedback is probably from people who are too disinterested to give feedback. If I really bored you THAT much…ouch. I'd much rather you hate it and tell me why than be too bored to care.The best feedback is something I got recently. A friend and fellow writer was critiquing a short story for a contest entry. She definitely had some good insight into things that needed changed, but she pulled one line out of the whole piece — a line I loved but didn't know if I was just being biased — and told me that it gave her shivers every time she read it. THAT made me feel awesome. Yes there was lots of work to be done, but if even one line could deliver the message I wanted it to, that meant I had it in me to make the others just as good!P.S. I'm in your horror group. Sorry it's taken so long for me to get around to saying hi!
#14 by Lesann Berry on September 12, 2011 - 3:29 am
Welcome quidforquill! Another horror writer…woohoo!I hadn't thought about the worst feedback being disinterest. Excellent point. If our work is SO boring that they can't even come up with anything to say…well that says it all, doesn't it? In that case the overeager here-let-me-tell-you-where-it-all-went-wrong kinda guy isn't so bad after all.I love your story – the perfect line or "just right" word can make a good piece, spectacular. You know when your critical readers like something that it's a good sign.Thanks for dropping by for a visit!