Hello Dear Readers,
Happy Tuesday. Is anyone else having as difficult a time getting back into the swing of things? All I want to do is sleep.
If you want to be a writer, one of the first things you have to do is learn how to accept criticism. Criticism is not only a fact of life for any working writer–it’s essential. Learning what you do well feels great, and can give a much-needed boost to your ego, but learning what you need to work on is much more important. If you can keep your mouth shut, stop saying “…but what I meant was….”, and really listen to what your critics have to say, your writing will vastly improve.
Not that all criticism is equally valuable–far from it. If you write enough, and especially if you have some success at it, you will encounter: people who critique just to hear themselves talk (this happens a lot in writer’s groups); know-it-all bores who use a lot of big fancy words that in the end add up to nothing; cautious beginners who spout rules from how-to-write books, not realizing that rules were made to be broken; and–worst of all–bitter wannabes who just want to take the wind out of your sails.
You don’t necessarily need to choose your critics well (although it’s a good idea), but you do need to carefully decide which criticism is worth listening to. Stephen King has said that if five critics tell you different things, ignore them all. But if all five people are saying the same thing, it may be worth paying attention to.
For the most part, I invite criticism of my work. I know it’s a sure way to improve my craft, and I wish I had more critics to turn to (while everyone may be a critic, not everyone can do it well). There are a couple of exceptions to this rule–I always get nervous before showing my work to The Boy, because he’s a self-proclaimed English geek with a master’s degree who can be brutally honest at times. He’s been nothing but enthusiastic when it comes to my writing so far, but I still get spooked. However, once he starts telling me what he likes, I get excited and I want to hear what isn’t working for him. I just need to warm up first.
The other instance that makes my hands shake is showing my work to authors who are higher up on the ladder of success. I’m always scared that one of them is going to tell me to keep my day job (however, even if they did, I wouldn’t listen. After I stopped bawling, I’d continue to write). It’s never happened, and some of the city’s most successful authors have been unfailingly kind and supportive of my work. But the initial reveal is always a nerve-wracking experience for me. I wonder if Stephen King ever feels this way. Who is Stephen King’s Stephen King?
Recently I received some criticism of the most unusual sort. A Grade Five teacher by the name of Vanessa Young-Caimol is a fan of this blog. When I wrote a post asking for opinions on how to start my novel Dragonfly Summer, she decided to open the question up to her students. They were so excited that they asked if they could write to me, and I received their heartfelt letters last week. The result is some of the most charming (and at times amusing) feedback I’ve ever received on my work.
Some of the students spent more time drawing their name on the page than actually telling me what they thought of the writing, but I can relate–I’m a big doodler, too. Some didn’t have time to say more than “I would like to give you some feedback”. But I was touched by each and every one of their honest submissions, and I will keep them forever. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share one of my favorites with you.
You could make people talk in the first one and in the 2nd one you could use some other things involved like a computer or a desk or a piece of wood and a falling garbage can that hit someone, but I like the 2nd one better because it was more detailed and it had people talking and it had more description of feel and sound and smell.
Unfortunately, that student didn’t sign his or her name. I’d like to thank Ms. Young-Caimol’s class for sharing their thoughts with me. It’s an honor that all of them took the time to tell me what they thought of my work. How many adult authors get to see their writing through the eyes of a child? While I’ve never considered adding falling garbage cans to my novels, it could be just the thing that story needs.
What was the most striking feedback you ever received? It could be the good, bad, or the ugly.