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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sometimes other people are right (even when you really don't want them to be)

Accepting criticism is hard, y'all. Accepting uninvited criticism when all you were trying to do was show off how awesome you are is pretty much impossible.

Look, it's not my fault I yelled at my partner. Here I was, minding my own business, and he just up and critcizes my writing. Total d-bag, am I right?

Okay, so maybe I wasn't actually minding my own business. I mean, I was actually reading him a passage from the novel. But still -- come on, right? What was he thinking? What, suddenly reading a passage out loud of the novel you're editing is just an open invitation to criticism? I guess that I missed that memo.

"People don't act like that," he says, "what is she, a sociopath?"

Typical MAN, am I right? Pretending to know what feelings are. What would he know? He didn't write it. He hasn't read it. He doesn't know my character. I think I would know if it makes sense or not: I wrote it. I think I would know how my character would behave. Who does he think he is, criticizing me?


What a faker. Like we all don't know that testosterone is a magical
elixir that prevents men's tear ducts from functioning. It's science.

That's day one of receiving criticism. Below is what inevitably follows.

Two days later: Hmm. Maybe it is a little weird that the character would do that.

One week later:  I guess I wouldn't do that. Would other people do that? Maybe people don't do that.

2 weeks later: Oh my god, my character is such an asshole. Why the heck would she do that? People don't act like that! What a selfish, self-involved jackoff!

1 month later: I guess I should change that part. I'm never telling partner.

2 months later: I should really go back and rewrite that part.

3 months later: Finally rewrite it.

Here's the thing about criticism: it sucks. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. Anyone who pretends to accept all criticism gracefully is a liar or a doormat. Because you shouldn't just roll over and accept any and all criticism that is thrown your way. You need to have some pride and fight it -- otherwise, how will you know what criticism is good criticism?

When you're writing a novel, there's a lot of you going into it. And I'm sure you're a very nice person, but not all of you is so great. We all know about that time you put a booger is Susie's hair and blamed it on Timmy. But even that bad stuff is still part of you. So when someone lobs some (uninvited) criticism your way, it's going to sting. Even if perhaps, deep down, you know it was wrong to put that booger in Susie's hair, who's to say that boogers aren't healthy for hair? And perhaps the whole thing was a nice character-building experience for Susie. And hey -- who's to say that Timmy wasn't going to put that booger in Susie's hair? He was probably thinking about it, he would have been punished anyway. Because no matter how stupid or wrong you might be, defensiveness happens. That's a bit of you that they're criticizing. Anyone who tells you not to take it personally is an idiot who has no understanding of how criticism works.

And here's the other thing about criticism: anyone can do it. There's no criticism license. Everyone runs around like the Critique Police, issuing criticism tickets left and right. There's not even an online program regulating it. The fact is, anyone can criticize, and everyone feels that they have the right to do it. At the risk of sounding cliche, I believe it was Martin Luther who said it best: Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.

I'm pretty sure it was Martin Luther. It was one of his 95 Theses. Number 14, I think.

Perhaps slightly less known than #77 - He who smelt it hath, indeed, dealteth it.
The point is, you need to be able and willing to fight for what you have written. But that doesn't mean you bullheadedly resolve to accept no criticism. You need to be open to change, but the fight ensures that only the right change gets through, that you're not compromising something important for immediate resolution.

It's your story. They are your characters and your words. Occasionally, you're going to have them do something ridiculously stupid. You can't help it. I know you're practically perfect, but sometimes we all just do really, really stupid stuff, and it will rub off on your characters. You need others to help you realize when something is stupid, but you need to rely on yourself to weed out the good-stupid and the bad-stupid. If you're not ready to put up a little fight, then you probably don't have the confidence yet for the fight of the peer-editing process.

So keep it away from the eyes of others. Run through your novel through your own bullshit detector first. A lot. Rewrite. A lot. And criticize yourself. A LOT.  Argue with yourself. A LOT. Eventually, you'll have a product that you are confident in, a product that your are proud of. A product that, perhaps, you even love.

Good. Now you're ready to throw it to the vultures for some peer-review.

1 comment:

  1. Always. Always. ALWAYS. Read it out loud to yourself. If it doesn't sound natural when you do that, then it won't sound right in your readers head.