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!


    Krista M said...

    I'm sorry about your negative review. That sounds terrible, but I'm glad that you are doing better. I've had to lick my wounds a few times from bad reviews/rejections. I've found that the best way to deal with rejections is a little crying and some chocolate therapy and to remember that I love writing. Hope it gets better for you!

    teacherwriter said...

    Thank you, Krista. I didn't mean to get on a soapbox, but I guess it sounded that way. Really, I'm fine. I've been at this long enough to know better than act more emotionally than logically, but I'm working on that everyday!

    Besides ... there is always something better to come along ... like the review just posted on Amazon for my Whips novel :-) Life moves on ...

    Sarah said...

    I agree with you that it's totally subjective. You just have to keep on writing and don't stop.

    Prudence MacLeod said...

    I find it interesting that so many months of a writer's hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, can be so easily dismissed by some arrogant fool who is having a bad day. sigh It is also amazing just how bad that kind of feedback can hurt.
    Be strong, and pity that poor soul, for he does not recognize brilliance when he sees it. Take joy in the fact that it is you who creates such brilliance for other to enjoy.

    teacherwriter said...

    Thank you, Sarah.
    And thank you, Prudence. Such words of support and encouragement are what keep me writing!