#IWSG – So you want to be a writer…. (pt 6)

In my last episode in this series, I told you that you need to get used to disappointment as a writer. And to develop thick skin. In this episode, I want to talk about the dreaded C word: criticism.

I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve run across who think the words they’ve written were handed down by God himself (or Goddess herself) and not one single word should be changed.

grumpy_perfect_words

This topic came to me because a writer in one of my online groups was complaining about how much she hated criticism of her work.

I get it. We slave over the storyline and characters, and it’s our baby, and we want everyone to love it.

My very own book, A Spicy Secret, was not universally loved. (I know. Shocking.) On Amazon, I have seven reviews, two of which are only two stars. (The remaining five are five-star reviews.) Essentially, the people who gave my book low ratings didn’t like the humor.

Was I sad to get those negative comments? Well, yeah. But I also recognize that not everyone likes humor, or my type of humor, and they don’t have to.

(In case you’re interested, on goodreads, my book has 24 ratings and an average of 4.29 stars. With a one-star review that says, and I quote: “Almost gave up on this one, predictable, strangely written, a little dull.”  Hmmm. Okay. You’re entitled to your opinion. I will try to make my next book better.)

It’s absolutely impossible to edit our own work. The reason is: it’s in our heads, where it all makes sense. We can see it all perfectly. But all of that – sense – might not have made it onto the page. And the chances of it *all* making it on to the page are pretty slim. (And yes, my book was edited. I got it back with lots of suggested changes before it went to print.)

On my main site, I have a page with my editing philosophy. I’ve crafted it through years of being part of an in-person critique group (before online even existed!), then years of being the founder and director of my own in-person critique group, and my years of being a marketing guru, writer, and editor.

An aside: I too once got very upset when my words were changed. But I learned to deal with it, to know that the word changes only made my overall story better.

The story: My freshman year of college, as an aspiring journalism student, I got a job as a news reporter for the college newspaper. [Aside, aside: I learned very quickly that I didn't want to write news. Ugh. Not for me.]

I turned in my first story, all excited, and then the paper came out. And my story, with my byline, looked practically nothing like what I had submitted.

Of course, at first, I was terribly upset. I still remember it, vividly. Sitting in front of my then-boyfriend’s word processor [not computer!], reading what I had written versus what was published.

After my dander went down, I realized that the story as published was much stronger than the story I’d written. And I realized that edits could and would only make my words sound better.

{Aside, aside, aside: years later, in grad school, I ended up taking a class with the guy who’d been the news editor that year. He told me I had been one of his best reporters. Can you say gobsmacked?!?!}

[Back to the main point]: clearly, even if what you’ve written is perfect (and again, it never ever *EVER* is), not everyone will like it. Everyone will have an opinion on your work. And the least helpful opinion in the whole entire world to a work in progress is “I think it’s perfect” or “It’s great”.

Helpful opinions include things like: “Your character was sitting by the window and is suddenly across the room” or “this is written in passive voice and should be active”.

If you’re in a critique group or have beta-readers looking at your work, and only one person says they don’t like something in particular, you should consider it, but you may ultimately decide not to make that change.

However, if the majority of people tell you something (for instance, “I don’t think the character would do that or say that”), then you should absolutely consider it, and probably change it.

If you want your writing to improve, you have to learn to accept constructive criticism. It’s nothing personal, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or a bad writer.

EVERY published writer in the world has an editor (or several). Seriously. Pull out your favorite books, read the acknowledgments in the back, and see how many of them include a thanks to their editor.

I suggest that in your head, change the semantics. Change the C word criticism to critique and use that critique. Use the ideas, learn from them, and become a better, stronger writer.

(And if you’re looking for an editor, I’m looking for projects. Check out some praise of my work from various authors. I’m also partnering with Chris Votey to offer a two-heads-is-better-than-one approach to editing. Check out the info on our new venture.)

Insecure Writers Support Group

 

More ramblings / other posts you might want to read...

dSavannah

About dSavannah

~ #disabled #spoonie fighting numerous, chronic, painful #InvisibleIllnesses ~ also #wife #feminist #ally #advocate #papyrophiliac #DogCatTurtleWrangler
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8 Responses to #IWSG – So you want to be a writer…. (pt 6)

  1. Joy says:

    I didn’t know you were an editor. Please don’t hold my typos against me LOL. They are a result of my CFS and poor vision.
    Joy @ The Joyous Living

  2. mad_cat says:

    I see this problem a lot with new writers. They put their heart and soul into something, and understandably, they protect their story. When I used an editor, I was initially hostile to her suggestions (it happens to all of us), but I took a step back and realized, “If she’s saying this, who else might say this and give me a lower rating because of it?”

    The other thing I see is when I give advice for content, and then I am told that I’m the only one who gave that criticism. Basically invalidating my opinion because I’m the only one who said something. Just because I point out something others don’t, doesn’t mean my opinion shouldn’t be listened to. You should take all critique seriously, even if you disagree with it. Because sometimes, you can end up making something better than before, even if you liked how it was in the first place.

    • dSavannah dSavannah says:

      Agreed. It does happen to all of us.

      And I should have clarified – I think that when, not if, you hire an editor, you should give ALL of their comments/suggestions due consideration, even if no one else has pointed it out. A good editor is specifically looking for ways to improve the work, and thus, all comments are valid.

      However, I learned that in a critique group setting, where the person giving suggestions is just looking right then at what you’ve presented, it may not be as necessary to give their comments full attention, especially if the other members of the group don’t agree with them.

      In the end, it’s the writer’s work, but the writer should always understand that work can always, always be improved and strengthened.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. I can relate to not wanting to change anything, especially as I like to finalize things and be done with them. It can be hard to stay open to what other folks think and realize that they’re offering critique, not criticism.

    • dSavannah dSavannah says:

      I like to be done with things too. One of the hard lessons I’ve learned in writing is that it’s NEVER finalized!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. jlgentry says:

    Great post. I look back at some of my early, unpublished work and see the great need for editing. Hell, I look at what I self-published and see the need to overhaul parts of it. It is very hard to edit your own work, but that doesn’t involve the risk of getting critiqued. I learned the value of critique when I took photography in college. Hearing what people didn’t like about shots I thought were phenomenal, got me to digging deeper into what makes for good composition. A good photo tells a story. A good story evokes a clear image. Wow. I should copyright that.

    I do have a great editor. I will advise my fellow writers to find an editor they have a connection with, not just the one who has the best price. A great editor knows how to critique work and correct errors in development and content. They also know how to ask you questions and point to things in a way that make you fix the problem, thus learning and keeping the story in your voice.

    So, I need to go back to my last self-edit before I send my book off to a real editor.

    Jerry

    • dSavannah dSavannah says:

      The critique of photography is a good analogy. They look at the image with a new eye and show things that we can’t see with our own because in our eyes, it is perfect. And yes, a good story should evoke a clear image. :)

      The cheapest editor is definitely not the best, nor is the most expensive. It has to be someone you trust with your work, someone you know has your words’ best interest at heart, someone who gets what you are trying to evoke.

      Now get to work! *cracks whip in your general direction*

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