Thursday, June 23, 2011

How to Deal With Criticism

Okay, this topic obviously caught my eye and took on a personal note because of my recent experience. Let me explain. I received a response from an editor of a publishing company I had submitted one of my completed manuscripts to -- A Deadly Deed Grows. Now, mind you, this one had already made its way to another publisher who thought it was good enough to send up the ladder to a final review, but it didn't make it through. They had some nice things to say about the novel, though. I was encouraged enough to follow it up with another submission.
Well, it made it up the ladder once more, only to end with a less than glowing, in fact rather scathing to the point of going down in flames, response. I'll admit, I sat and cried. I don't think I have gotten such negative feedback since ... well ... probably since grade school. I tried to toughen up, get past it, telling myself that the other editor really liked it. I guess if this one had said something nice, anything, like "clever title" or "your dialog is realistic" or "thank you for formatting correctly" ... just something, I might not have felt so wounded.

It's been over a month now since I got that email. I've licked my wounds and moved on, but there are still some scars. Writing seems to be my therapy. Anyway, I found this article on dealing with criticism --
How to Deal With Criticism in Writing . The author, Kenji Crosland, lists the following musts:

  • Learn to value criticism

  • Write without thinking about criticism

  • Listen to criticism openly

  • Respond to criticism effectively

  • I will just focus on the second one and let you check out the rest.
    Write without thinking about criticism: I chose this one because I feel that's where I'm at -- writing and trying not to be self-conscious about criticism. It's kind of like getting back on the horse right away before you lose confidence to do so. I have to write, keep on submitting, or I might lose my nerve all together. And that's a big no-no.

    As Crosland puts it, you can't let that inner voice, the one telling you your writing stinks, dictate because it will stop you in your tracks and keep you from that creative flow. So, what do you do? He says your attitude needs to change, i.e., avoid perfectionism. He quotes playwright, August Wilson, “You can make no mistakes, but anything you write can be made better.”, which Crosland changes this a bit to say, Although anything you write can be made better, there comes a point where you can’t make it better.” When put another way, you need to stop tweaking too much or you'll have one confused mess on your hands.

    He also points out that you need to write with authority. Be confident in your writing, know your craft and employ it well into your work. A fine line is being walked here. Criticism should be taken seriously and taken as a professional. But remember, it is subjective. So, if you are hearing the same suggestions/criticisms from several people (that is, people who are supposedly expert in the craft), then you should listen. However, --and I'm not just saying this because it happened to me that way--if you hear it only from one, take the advice objectively, see what there is to use, or if there is something worth using, and leave it at that.

    In any case, criticism goes along with the territory. If you are writing to be heard, and/or to be published, you have to expect the good along with the bad. I know I am. It's tough, but necessary.
    Hope all you writers out there find this useful, and as always, write on!

    ADDENDUM...I got my first really true review of WHIPS, CUFFS, AND LITTLE BROWN BOXES and it felt good! No, it wasn't a perfect 5 stars rating, but this reader had some great things to say, along with the criticism. Now, THAT'S what I'm talking about!

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Reading Lists Continued ... Does it Take a Celebrity?

    So, I have written about the top picks in young adult novels and in general adult fiction. Let's take a look at one of those categories -- books written by celebrities. Hey ... the books sell, so they deserve mention. I found an article Stranger Than Fiction -- Top Celebrity Novelists that focuses on eight celebrities from actors to musicians to spouses of actors or musicians. Some of the work is actually considered "good", good enough to at least consider adding to your reading list. I will touch on a few and let you check out the rest in more detail. And mind you, these are novels, not autobiographies!

    1) Gene Hackman: Payback at Morning Peak -- western fiction. Consider his background and experience which might add credibility to the content. And the fact that this is not his first effort. He coauthored a couple of others previously.

    2) James Franko (General Hospital): Palo Alto -- a short story collection meant to be taken seriously, but SERIOUSLY? At least that's what the author of this article implies.

    3) Lauren Conrad: L. A. Candy -- fictional account with way too many parallels to Conrad's life, which many authors will do when they write fiction, so we will let this slide. Okay, I have to add a personal sidebar -- in my Lang. Arts class, one of my students did a report on this book. Not my bag, but really popular with teens. Go figure. And popular enough to follow it up with Sweet Little Lies and Sugar and Spice.

    4) Hillary Duff: Elixer -- a supernatural mystery that's been on the bestseller list.

    5) Ethan Hawke: The Hottest State -- a brooding tale from a brooding character, or something like that. Hawke must enjoy writing stories so he can turn them into movies. Ash Wednesday is another.

    You'll find three more and many more details about all of them if you click on the article link. I do have some parting observations. So here goes ... artistic people can be artistic in many areas. It makes sense if someone who plays an instrument well can also do well at writing. There is no reason why we can't have more than one talent, though being a celebrity who writes a book shouldn't automatically insure bestseller status. I think most would agree with me on that ... unless he/she was a celebrity!