I remember the moment I found out I wasn’t a good writer.
Like most introverted masochists, I’d always wanted to be able to say I’d written a novel. It couldn’t be that hard, right? People have been doing it for a few centuries now. Lots of people. Like childbirth. So one Halloween, I’d eaten the last of the good candy, turned out the porch light and signed up for NaNoWriMo. If you’re not sure what that is, click here.
Two months later, I’d written most of a novel. For the record, I did make the 50,000 word goal to “win,” but as I wrote, I figured out my book was going to need to be a tad longer. I tinkered with it for another six months or so and came across a tiny little contest called PitchWars. You may have heard of it.
As the contest burst into full bloom, I began reading blogs the mentors were kind enough to write for beginners like me. I learned cool things like WIP meant work-in-progress and proper dialogue tags are pretty important. What I never expected to learn was that my writing kind of sucked. Like a Hoover.
I had two choices. I could scoff in the critics’ faces (a favorite pastime of introverted masochists, believe it or not) or I could listen to what they had to say. There was just one problem. Actually three:
- No one else knew my work like I did.
- I knew what I meant. They just weren’t reading closely enough.
- If I could explain…
The thing is, that wasn’t really me talking. It was my ego. You know, that part of the brain that’s responsible for a person’s take on reality and measure of self-importance. Once I realized my ego had gone into super-competitive-drive, I could try to distract it with shiny objects and let the truth of the matter marinate until I learned a thing or two.
But how do you that? How do you quiet the ego, especially if you’re fresh out of shiny objects? Lucky for you, I consulted the experts. I conducted a massive research project and compiled lists of data…
Okay, I asked a few editors and writers on Twitter and in Top Secret Writing Groups on Facebook about their experiences with dealing with criticism, and this is what they had to say:
Editor, Jeni Chapelle, says there’s a difference between a writer who doesn’t know how to receive feedback and one that refuses to hear it. She says, “I recognize it as a sign of a new writer, both in their ability to set aside their personal feelings about their work and in understanding how to approach revisions based on feedback. These are the first of many skills not solely about writing that every author must learn on the road to publication. If you’re lucky, feedback from a critique partner, beta reader, or editor is only the first in a long line of opinions you’ll hear about your work, from agents, various editors at your publisher, and reviewers. Not all of these will be kind or even constructive. Even if you are open to feedback in your day job or other areas of your life, you may have to learn again with your writing.”
So that’s good news! Getting good at receiving criticism can be learned as a skill.
Editor, Christine Stewart, says ego has no place in receiving feedback because “it’s impossible to work with writers who come to conferences or book an editor in order to be validated, rather than to learn. That writer can’t be helped.”
As an editor with industry experience, it’s literally an editor’s job to make sure your book will do well in the current market. If that dog of an ego doesn’t allow hearing the tough stuff, maybe it’s time to consider self-publishing. Which is cool, but…
As Rachel says, we’ve all seen critical comments of books on Twitter, Goodreads and Amazon. Wouldn’t you rather see those comments before the book is published and living out In the Wild?
Editor, Jami Nord, says to ask for clarification on what the critic is getting at. If something doesn’t work for you, there’s always another way to solve the underlying issue.
In fact, everyone who responded said similar things. Be open-minded. If one person offers criticism, trust your reaction. But, if multiple people are saying the same thing, it may be worth looking deeper into the issues. Sit on the critique for a few days and see what comes of it. (A personal favorite.) Sometimes initial reactions aren’t our true thoughts, but ones conjured to prevent pain. Once that passes, it’s easier to see the truth.
Have you ever seen the Seven Stages of Editing Grief? (Thanks, Michelle, for reminding me about them!) They look like this:
- Denial – “That editor doesn’t know what she’s talking about. My manuscript was fine ’til she got hold of it.”
- Pain & Guilt – “I can’t believe this is such a mess. If only I used that word there, I wouldn’t be stung by that stupid red pen.”
- Anger – “What the *%$& does that editor think she’s doing? Does she even know how to write?”
- Depression – “Why did the publisher ever send me a contract? I should’ve been a banker.”
- Acquiescence – “Well, maybe I should look at this and see what she has to say. I mean, she’s supposed to fix things, right? How bad can it be?”
- Reconstruction – “Hey, this is fairly decent, in fact some of these changes make the story stand out a little better than before.”
- Hope – “Wow, this is pretty cool. I wonder what else I can fix to make it more compelling?!”
Bottom line: Writers pour their hearts and souls into the words bleeding on to the page. It hurts when someone says your blood isn’t arranged well enough to make a pretty picture. The good news is, however, that once the words are there, so is the picture. It just may take a little rearranging to make it sparkle. Like a good contour palette.
If you’re into that sort of thing.