(or how to smile when you hear bad words about you and your writing)
Do you have a person in your life that you simply adore but s/he has a small flaw that leads you into madness (even daily)? That person, whether it’s your mother, friend, spouse or colleague, is all fabulous and shiny, but is let’s say, regularly late, knows everything best or leaves her things in the wrong place. If you even look at 3 loved ones you hang out with, I’m sure you would easily find something that doesn’t suit you in each of them, even if this flaw is something that someone should really change (eg. your colleague is always late and she may lose her job because of this).
Piece of cake, right? Ok, let’s do go right to the hard part – think about yourself. Can you find your flaws? Try it, tell me at least two of your habits that are not exactly the brightest.
What’s that? It’s not that easy as it sounds? Believe me, I wanted to demystify myself and tell you all my flaws in this post but… Somehow I didn’t manage to find them. For each of my idiotic characteristic I have (quite reasonable) justification. I can even imagine what would others tell me, but I would disagree with the majority of those attributes. However, I learned to look at myself first and to think how I would behave in a given situation (thus I’m improving myself right? So I guess I’ll acknowledge some of my flaws… One day).
Thinking about finding my own flaws helped me in accepting criticism at my own account. Nobody’s perfect – neither am I. And believe me, at least when it comes to writing, I couldn’t bear receiving criticism from an illiterate kitten. It took me a long time to even admit that I write because of a fear that someone may have any objection to what I have expressed.
The catch is that criticism (or even a friendly suggestion) is a sign that you didn’t do something properly. And when with a pure heart you give someone access to your most intimate part (in this text this is written work), everyone wants to get a pat on the shoulder from the receiver of our precious gift who will say how excellent we write.
– You are such a talent! Incredible! I haven’t read anything better in my life!
All that hard work, all that we have hitherto hidden, automatically make sense! Confirmation of a dear (or any other) person explains that we are so cool and establishes our place on planet earth and finally feeds our starving vanity; I could say that such compliments are actually pancakes with Nuttela cream and cherry for the soul.
However, getting feedback (aka forced diet) is very important part of your writing process. As much as you don’t like it.
What you first need to see when you face criticism is whether it has arguments or not. Criticism makes sense when is has a clarification (and then it’s a well-intentioned suggestion) but loses all its meaning when a person offends your writing (and you alone). For example:
- Constructive suggestion would be: the book doesn’t lack imaginative scenes and I think you’re very creative, but you need to work on your writing skills as the events are unconnected and just go one after the other.
- Unsubstantiated criticism, on the other hand, would sound something like: Your main character is a moron and your story is boring. Recently I read a book from XY – he is such a good writer! Why don’t you also write a novel about vampires like anyone else?
First of all you have to be open to people and listen to them (if you’ve already asked for their opinion). In this way, you realize whether a person is thinking about helping you out (has arguments) or is just plain wrong (hates itself first, then the whole world and then you and your damn book crossed his path). That’s why…
Do not immediately be offensive because the other side has the best of intentions.
So don’t be rude and listen to what someone has to say about your work. It is important is to start from yourself: do you switch to defensive behavior because of addressed suggestions (as opposed to elaborate on it) and whether you insult the other part because you didn’t like what you hear.
Remember that the person who criticizes you is not paid to give their opinion and that, in one way or another, is trying to help you out (believe me, even when it comes to the worst possible criticism without any sense, this person really thinks he’s helping). If a person is paid to give you suggestions, you should ask yourself why you hired her in the first place: do you want to hear false praises or you want honest opinion about your work?
Ask yourself how valuable their opinion is and whether you can do something to make your story finer. People will sometimes provide useful guidance so there is nothing more useful than a careful reader who wishes to advise you how to be even better. Also, if you do not agree with what you have heard, you don’t have to accept the suggestion.
All this is nice that I nag about you say, but how do you deal with a really vicious criticism (eg. ugly comments, curses, insults, etc.)? Just don’t. Fuck off stupid reviews and malicious minds. Delete comment. Block jerks. Leave the room. Turn off the phone. Nobody has the right to mistreat you because they are so insecure about their own shortcomings that they just can’t stand seeing somebody pursuing their dreams. Simple as that.
This does not mean that it is easy to hear criticism; finding out that your writing has the slightest flaw is a pretty terrible feeling. However, this is an essential part of the writer’s process that is applicable in every aspect of your life and reads as follows:
Whatever you do, someone will criticize you.
You can live your whole life trying to please other people that will (and this is signed by Ana Gord herself) again find some imperfection, or you can live however you want (and then at least you know you have indulged yourself and not others).
So when someone criticizes you (for the first or 101st time) – just breathe deeply. If you fall in despair every time you hear some suggestion, writing is not for you (or any other business). Although I can fix that too: you can show your work to no one and then you don’t ever have to worry that someone will criticize you.
When you have a good friend who will read your work, it might not be way-to-go-master pat on the back you expected but remember that your work will only improve in this way. Thank your buddy for help and get to work. It is better to be criticized by your friend than an editor or publisher.
And this is the easy part. Just imagine how you will be criticized by people who have the credibility to criticize you (ie. literary critics), or, god forbid, people who have no idea who you are with a lot less tack whose feedback is going to be way more cruel. And believe me, strangers don’t have to explain why they like something or not. Moral of the story?
Anyone who reads is entitled to an opinion. Especially those who don’t read – they love to be the smartest ones.
So: inhale, exhale and relax.
Criticism is not there to make you feel good, but to help you be a better writer (and human). The most important thing is what you do with a criticism and the point is to correct your work before you publish it. Therefore, you should be excited (and not desperate) to revise your story for the better.
Finally, write with love, be open to different opinion and – revise with love. And tell me what you think: is it possible to change the vanity of a writer, blogger or man?
If you want to know how to find someone who would love to read your work, check out my article about beta readers or schedule your consultations 1 on 1 with me. Of course, each like, share, follow and comment is more than welcome 😉