Taking Criticism

I have always been a fiercely self-conscious person.

When I was a teenager I wore baggy clothes, thinking that if I camouflaged my body I wouldn’t get looked at. As a young mom, I often worried what “older” mommacitas thought of me. I kept a spotless house and agonized over every detail of raising my babies. unnamedNow, I’m confident in my skin as a woman and mother. My anxiety is ebbing. I made three PEOPLE with this body. I wear whatever (the hell) I like. My house is still tidy–most of the time–but I’ve learned to let the little things slide. Our family is happier because of it. And, because of my new found confidence, I’ve shifted ranks from “Helicopter Parent” to “Free Range Parent.” (Although, as my precious hellions will attest, even I still have some boundaries.)

But, my anxiety is bleeding into a new aspect of my life, as I take on the role of budding author. While *gasp* presenting my work to other people to read, I feel like I’m presenting myself as an awkward tween all over again, which wasn’t pretty ladies and gentlemen: picture legs like broomsticks, ears like doors, and a mouth that often ran off before my brain could catch up. Every week, I submit my work to my critique group to get torn apart . . . on purpose. Every now and then, I receive a figurative pat on the back–a series of comments about the dramatic improvement of my writing, and a flood of excitement over the latest plot twists.

I also receive a truck load of criticism.

pi2hh

I am lucky enough that I have two main “critters” who have followed my story from the beginning. I value their opinion more than anyone else’s, because they put in the time and give kick-a@# advice. They want to help. One of these crazy cats has even stepped up as a mentor to me. When I lose confidence after a particularly painful critique cycle, he tells me to smart the hell up and start writing again.

Which is great!!

But, the time has come to pull up my socks. No more taking three weeks off my critique group because I can’t hack the criticism. No more rocking in the corner, singing Last Dance With Mary Jane while I twirl my hair around my fingers (okay, I have never done that, but I HAVE felt like it). Because, it’s tough out there, folks, and as an aspiring author, this is just the beginning.

Stephen King has sold 350 million books and receives criticism every single day. Does he care about the haters? I’m going to go out on a limb here to guess that he doesn’t. And, if he did, he could just cheer himself up by diving into a giant pool full of money. The ability to take criticism in stride is something I’ll have to master, too. gerardIn the real world, people are going to say things that will sting a little when my book is published. That’s the reality. In fact, the better my book sells, the more scathing reviews it’ll receive (alongside many AWESOME ones, too, of course).

At this phase in my writer’s journey the people in my critique group are trying to help me. Some are published, successful authors who have set aside hours upon hours of their time to point out areas of my work I can improve on. Sometimes, when the stars align just right . . . they even show me how to fix my blunders. Right now I am wading in the kiddie pool. In less than six months I’ll be swimming with the sharks. So, how do I harden my shell?

oprahI recently watched an interview Oprah gave to . . . God help me, I can’t remember her name. I even searched for the interview online, but couldn’t find it. The author said something I’ll never forget. “My book, my work, does not define me.” This quote has changed my entire perspective on writing. When I show my work to people, I am not saying this is me, this is all I’m capable of. The chapters are a snapshot of my ability of that time. I am a new author, just like I’m a new blogger. I will make mistakes.

A friend of mine recently invited me to check out some of his older books. He added that his writing has improved quite a bit since he wrote them. He didn’t say it because he was embarrassed, and he wasn’t forgiving himself for past blunders, or excusing himself to me. He said it as a fact. He lived through the awkward author years. Soon, I’ll be that confident in my skin as an author, too. My anxiety will ebb. The rules I so fervently stick to right now will become less important, and my author’s voice will shine.

Just like in life, my mistakes do not define me. My ability to accept those blunders as part of the learning process and improve, does.


To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

–Aristotle


So, how do I move forward from here? I’m going to take my criticism, and be something.

17 thoughts on “Taking Criticism

  1. Before Stephen King ever dived into a swimming pool full of cash, he threw away his breakout novel. Carrie was rescued from the trash can by his wife.

    That just underscores that every writer goes to periods of insecurity.

    The next time you feel that way, ask one of your more trusted critique partners to review the new crit. Odds are they may have a different perspective. They may say this new person does not know what they’re talking about, or this person does not understand your story, or this person has no sense of humor.

    Maybe your veteran critique partner is trying to make you feel better, or maybe they’re trying to give you some insights. Not every critique partner brings the same things to the table. Some may have just had a fight with your wife and cannot read your scene about a husband and wife fighting. Some may have just lost their child and cannot read you seen about a child being hurt or possibly killed. We all bring different things to the table.

    The key element is: how would a disinterested third party read this, and then once they are immersed in the story, would they still be buying what you’re selling?

    Odds are, once a reader (not a critique partner, but a reader) has gotten past five or six chapters, they’ve bought in. They’re along for the ride, and you have to really screw things up to get them to disembark.

    If we always had 100% complete confidence, we probably wouldn’t write with the necessary vulnerability to allow readers in. It’s important have a thick skin, but it’s important have a full range of emotions, too. Just don’t let them get the better of you. When they do, seek input from people whose opinions you trust and who have your best interest at heart.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I read that about Carrie before. I think that story that resonates with every author. I wonder what would have happened if he had thrown the story out?
      You raise a great point. Authors should check with other people before following advice which doesn’t quite seem right. Not everyone will be in the right frame of mind to critique a story subjectively at the very moment they decide to do it. I don’t take advice that I don’t agree with, even if I am a new author. It’s still my book, and my mistakes to make, after all 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Your mistakes don’t define you, how you handle them those mistakes however, kind of does. LOL.
    There’s an old saying, unless you’re a 100 dollar bill not everyone will like you. Not everyone will like what you write no matter how long you work on a piece. So I would just add, think carefully about what criticism you are taking to heart. And keep writing. It’s the only think that keeps me sane with my little one.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Nice blog. I like what you said about the two people with you on the journey and how their opinions matter the most. I once read that it takes 40 seconds for a person to leave a scathing review on Amazon. Why value that time and allow it to dictate how you feel about you several year journey?

    Keep at it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you.
      And, I know that will be an important reminder for me in the days to come. The idea that someone can trash the product of years of work in a matter of seconds is daunting, but it’s not enough to hold me back from even trying.
      I enjoyed your latest blog post too. Looking forward to more!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. You know something, Jenny, this is the most enjoyable author blog I’ve come across. I’m struggling myself trying to figure out what I should be posting to my blog, especially when I’m working diligently on my second MS and can’t really afford the time.

    A lot of author blogs are confusing. They seem to start mid-sentence, and everyone is supposed to understand the back story. It’s odd. But you write about things we can all relate to. I, for one, can really identify with you and this whole process.

    That’s how I know your book will be amazing. Your blog posts have a beginning, middle and end and are personal, logical and heartfelt. It should be a good indication of how your MS is as well.

    Criticism is hard to take, but nobody’s perfect, including those criticizing your work. If you think they might be right about something, go ahead and make the changes, but stick to your guns if you feel passionate about other parts of it.

    I’m sure you’re doing well. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, DM!
      That was a very nice comment. Sometimes it is hard to figure out what to write on the blog, but I recently decided to make the posts more personal. I suspect many other authors who are just starting out must be going through many of the same things I am. At the end of the day, if putting yourself out there and being honest means the possibility of connecting with others, it can’t be that that bad.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s really funny. I hadn’t checked back on these comments until just now and am seeing that I used the exact same phrase as you right here in my own newest post. It’s fitting.

        I decided that I had been sort of waffling, and it’s time to change directions with the blog. So from now on I will be “putting myself out there” and writing about things that matter. If I lose readers, then so be it. I’ll gain others.

        Thanks for your inspiration. 🙂

        Like

  5. Love this post… I feel like you wrote it from inside my head. 😊

    It’s important to remember that the people who are critiquing our chapters, and the people who will criticize our books once they’re published, don’t know us as individuals. Even though their words can sometimes stomp on our self-esteem, they’re not judging us “personally.” Only our work. But… There are times I let my crits pile up because I just can’t handle seeing what else I screwed up, usually after receiving a few rough critiques.

    I’m right there with you! While we’re learning to write, we also need to learn to accept being kicked arou–I mean, criticism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha, it feels like getting kicked around, doesn’t it? I’m glad the post connected with you. Writing is a very solitary endeavour, and sometimes it just helps to vent, and know other people are dealing with exactly the same things.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, yes I hear you!! I thought I was pretty self-confident until I got back into writing and joined a critique group. My stuff isn’t perfect just the way it is? WHAAAAT? What are the stages here.. anger, hurt, denial, frustration, drinking, mumble mumble, fine I’ll revise it? But boy, even after just a few months of getting my stuff ripped up every week or two, hey, it actually helped. I could truly see a major improvement, to the point where they were no longer tearing my drafts to shreds. In fact, they started running out of things to criticize. I got so cocky, you wouldn’t believe.

    Then one day I had a defining turning point. I brought in a chapter I thought was okay, a little slow but pretty good. They ripped it to shreds. Took over an hour on this short chapter.. “And another thing… And what about this…. And this whole section isn’t working at all…” But here’s the turning point: I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t hurt. I was — no seriously, is this ME feeling this?!? — HAPPY that they were taking the time to help me fix this chapter, which they were right, was obviously a steaming pile of doo-doo. I felt like I’d Made It, capital M, capital I. I was now a Totally Mature Adult Writer. Stand back, everyone, here I come.

    Okay, so that lasted for about two weeks before I was crying into my coffee again about someone not liking my blog. But hey, once you reach a peak once, it’s easier to get back again, right? Right?!?

    You make a *fabulous* point about the importance of having people who take the time to give you good criticism, because they actually care and want to help you get better. I am absolutely blessed to have stumbled upon a few such strangers in my critique group, and my wish for all writers is to have such people in their lives. Because heaven knows it’s easy enough to find the haters — and the ignorers and dismissers, and that whole nasty clan.

    Keep up the good fight!

    Like

    • You have described my journey exactly! I loved finding a critique group to help identify my weaknesses. I have blossomed as a writer, with their help. But, there have been times that their advice seemed to pile up to the point I thought I had to take a break. There have also been times that I took very bad advice altogether too seriously. And, that is a line to contend with in critique groups as well.
      And, thanks for the follow 🙂 I’m looking forward to going through some of your blog shortly!

      Liked by 1 person

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