Imagine that you’re standing in the middle of a crowd of your readers and fans that absolutely love the stories you write and appreciate the love and energy you put into every word. Every single one of those loyal readers has a giant feather…and they surround you, lightly teasing and fawning all over you with those feathers, day and night. It’s just a good feeling, you know? Hehehe, and there might ten, or twenty, or fifty, or one hundred, of them…giving you nothing but good vibes the whole time.
NOW…imagine that there is one person in that crowd…armed with a sharp, rusty, screwdriver. And that person runs up and STABS you right in the gut with it!
Hehehe, it doesn’t matter how many fans you’ve got, or how many feathers…that’s impossible to ignore. It HURTS!!! And sometimes it cancels out everything else, and all you can focus on is the pain. If you’re one of those people…then welcome to Part 2 of the ‘Giving/Getting Criticism’ posts on Imagine Magazine!
Oh yeah, writers…it’s our turn now!
Last issue, I gave FIVE rules that I thought critics should keep in mind when reviewing stories online. That includes us, as writing peers, as well. This week, we have five rules of our own to think about when it comes to receiving that criticism. Hopefully, it will help us look at things from a different perspective, keep up our enthusiasm for something we love doing, and possibly take some of the ‘sting’ out of getting a few less than favorable reviews. So let’s dive right in, shall we?
Writing can make you vulnerable sometimes. You may not even realize how much emotion you pour into the words you write on a screen. Feelings and memories and personal beliefs…desires, fantasies, hopes, and dreams. And when you’re done, you’ve actually given birth to something that didn’t exist before. You created something out of nothing, and it is so tempting to love that work unconditionally, no matter what anybody says about it. Don’t feel guilty about that! It’s a good thing. Be proud of what you done, and feel accomplished in knowing that there is a piece of you out there in the world that represents you as a writer and as a human being.
There’s loving your story like a parent loves their child when they come home with a bad report card…and there’s loving your work like the mother in the movie “The Bad Seed”! Hehehe! (If you don’t know the reference, ummm…Google it) Fans and critics are two sides of the same coin. You simply can’t have one without the other. It doesn’t work that way. If you open yourself up to praise, then you have to open yourself up to ridicule as well. Your armor can’t be selective when it comes to this, but if you stay in the right frame of mind, not only can you avoid some of the hurt and frustration involved, but you might actually come out better for it in the end. K?
So, here we go! These are my FIVE rules that every author and creator should take into account when getting criticism!
Rule #1 – Shields up! I realize that you have to wear your heart on your sleeve in order to tell an honest and emotionally engaging story…but the criticism will come your way. Expect it. And brace yourself for the impact. I say this because it’s easy to make any negative comments on your work seem MUCH worse than they actually are. No one wants to admit to being sensitive, but let’s be real about this…we’re sensitive. There’s nothing wrong with that. The harder you work on something and the closer it is to your heart…the more difficult it is to take criticism on it. At least for me, it is. Now, I happened to grow up with an abusive father when I was very young, and it was a very painful experience for me, trying to write that into the “New Kid In School” storyline. I approached it, but as comments came in, I found that I wasn’t ready yet. I was much too close to the source and couldn’t handle the critics’ comments on that part of the story. Comments that weren’t anywhere near as harsh as I made them out to be, originally. So, some of you may notice that the abuse element was quickly written out of the storyline and never mentioned again. I took another shot at it when I wrote “Gone From Daylight”, where it is a side story to the main plot. And it wasn’t until “My Only Escape” that I felt prepared to tackle the issue head on. And that took practice and a thicker skin to really tell the truth about some of the things I went through and was able to distance myself enough from the story to accept any and all comments about what was going on. When you have a tight connection to what you’re writing, criticism can hurt. But DON’T take every unfavorable comment as a personal attack! It’s not personal. To your readers, it’s just a fictional story. We have to keep that in mind when reading their reviews of it. This is where you need to have your armor in place so that you can listen to what your audience is telling you with an objective eye and avoid making it personal. Have your shields ready! There are going to be times when you need them. Believe me.
Rule #2 – Shields down! Hehehe, remember when I told you to put your shields up JUST a few sentences ago? Yeah, well…you’re going to need to take them down again! This is step two. The same vulnerability that you needed to tap into in order to create your story…you will need to tap into it again to accept the criticism you receive from readers, and improve as a writer. Again, this takes practice for some people. But there comes a time when we all have to be open to suggestions and try to see our own work through the eyes of the very people that we begged for validation in the first place. Hehehe, it’s true! If you’re asking for other people’s opinion, expecting ONLY good news and nothing less than praise and worship…then you are in for a few harsh wake up calls in the future. And they won’t be pretty.
One thing that you DON’T want to do is argue! Never get defensive and try to bully your readers out of their opinion. That is only going to make you look like a jackass. I’ve been guilty of that myself, and I regret it. I’ve learned better. If you feel the need to explain something to the reader that you think they didn’t understand, then that’s fine. Do so calmly and let them know why you made the choices you made. Or clue them in on the fact that you have a master plan in the works, and (without giving spoilers) they’ll see the need for your story design in the near future. That’s fine. But don’t get into a war with your readers over how they truly feel about what you wrote. You won’t change their minds and they won’t change yours. It’s an eternal stalemate before it even begins. Instead, thank them for their feedback, and examine their comments to see if they’ve made any valid points that could possibly point out weaknesses in your work. Try to look at things from their point of view. You’re trying to be the best writer that you can be, right? Well, that means taking responsibility for your own flaws and blind spots…and then working to correct them. Writing a story isn’t easy. Step up to the challenge. Your readers won’t settle for anything mediocre when they’re reading, and we shouldn’t either when we’re writing.
Rule #3 – DON’T get discouraged! Just because you get a few negative comments on a story, that doesn’t mean that it’s terrible and beyond redemption, or that you simply don’t have the talent to write a story at all. As I’ve said in the past, the WORST reaction an author can get is ‘silence’. If somebody is taking the time to comment and review your story at all, then you are already being given a gift that many writers never get. Even if the reaction is negative, you have captured the attention of a reader who took the time to let you know how they feel about something that you sat down and bravely put out there for public consumption. That’s saying a lot. Appreciate that, and be grateful for the interaction. If you allow every negative comment to ‘shut you down’ in terms of continuing with the story…then you’ll never get anything done, nor will you ever reach your full potential. Don’t give up, don’t put that story on the back burner or write it off as a loss, never going back to finish it. Have faith in your talent! Maybe you have a few stumbles along the way, but that’s no reason to abandon the project. If you receive negative reviews on your work, make that an incentive to work even harder, as opposed to letting them beat you down. You had a dream to make your voice heard, and you’re making that happen by expressing yourself your way. What’s changed? Nothing. Keep writing. If you don’t get them with ‘this’ story…you’ll catch them with the next one. What’s most important is that we all stay true to the stories that we want to tell. Do that, and we can conquer any criticism that comes our way. Always remember…we’re creators. We create. Our job is already DONE before the critics ever get their hands on it. No apologies. K?
Rule #4 – Never be afraid to retrace your steps. Look at your feedback, both positive and negative, and see if there are any similarities in what they are trying to tell you. Whether they say, “AWESOME story! I think the part with the vampire unicorn was a bit weird, but other than that…I LOVED it!” or they say, “I didn’t really like it. Sorry. The vampire unicorn thing? WTF was THAT about?”…there’s an ‘agreement’ happening there. Hehehe! Go back and see why both positive and negative comments are stuck on the same problematic elements of the story. What did you do there? Can you see where they’re coming from? Are there parts of your story that might need some tweaking or possibly need to be removed from the story altogether? Everything you write isn’t going to be perfect. Even if you work hard on editing and revising it a million times in an attempt to do so. The whole point is to have your personal expression translated into words and feelings that someone else can understand and relate to. If that connection is broken, and they’re not getting it…then you might want to go back and try to find a more accessible way of getting your message across. It’s important that we really LISTEN to what our critics are trying to say to us. And that can really SUCK sometimes! LOL! But don’t block them out. Because the worst, most hurtful, comments you’ll ever receive might just end up bringing out the best in you. They may leave a few scars along the way, but if you come out better for it…then they’re worth it, right?
Rule #5 – Know when to ‘cash it’ or ‘trash it’! When you read criticisms of your work, and you’ve absorbed what it is what they had to say…you’re left with a choice to make. Do I ‘cash it’? And take their suggestions to heart in ways where I change up my way of writing and get better at doing what I do? Or do I ‘trash it’? Because this person is just nitpicking and being rude without understanding how much time and effort I’ve put into making this story a reality? We have to know the difference. What you DON’T want to do is cave in every time somebody tells you that they don’t like certain elements of your story! You can’t please everybody. Don’t try.
“I want more sex!”
“I want less sex!”
“There’s not enough drama!”
“I want less drama!”
“Please make this have a happy ending! You depress me when bad things happen!”
“Please stop making everything so happy all the time! It’s so unrealistic!”
You will drive yourself CRAZY trying to chase the needs and desires of your audience. STOP it! K? You had a story in your heart that you wanted to write and share with people online. Write that story. You don’t HAVE TO accept every suggestion that you get from your critics. Stand up for your choices as an author. Anybody with a keyboard and an internet connection to send you a criticism has the exact same tools that they need to write their own story their own way. So why harass YOU about it?
Maybe you killed off a beloved character, maybe your story took on a darker tone, maybe you threw a monkey wrench into a previously ‘perfect’ relationship…wherever your instincts guided you in your writing, GO there! Why not? Just because your audience doesn’t agree with your artistic choices, that doesn’t mean that you have to change them. It’s your story. You can do whatever you want with it. Follow your gut feelings and put out a project that you can truly be proud of…criticism be damned!
Me? I can be really ‘wordy’ in my stories sometimes. I make a lot of mechanical mistakes, formatting errors, continuity mishaps…I notice them a lot more now than I did when I was first writing my stories for the first time. So I’m still learning and challenging myself to do better with every chapter that I put out. But, despite it all, my goal is to maintain the flow and the emotion of every single story that I release. No excuses. And, while there are people who may not agree with some of the artistic choices that I’ve made, or the flawed presentation of the stories themselves…I hear your suggestions, but stick to my game plan. I’m stubborn like that. Hehehe! I think every creative mind reading this should be the same. Never let someone with a negative view on what you’re written ‘hijack’ your story. It’s YOURS! Own it. Both the good and the ‘not so good’. Don’t start kneeling down and surrendering to a group of people who think they know how to write the perfect story, and yet, all they do is instruct you on how to do all the hard work while they sit back and judge the end result. No. Stick up for your work. If you believe in it, and you think it truly represents your vision…then don’t let anyone take that from you. Because there are people out there that will be overjoyed to read your story told YOUR way! Write for them instead.
So…there we go! As writers and artists, opinions and criticism is going to be a constant part of our lives, and while critics need to have a certain sense of grace and etiquette when approaching us, we need to display a certain sense of grace and etiquette when accepting and dealing with them as well. We can be a part of the problem too, and every critic isn’t trying to cause you any embarrassment or emotional damage by letting you know that your writing could use some work. Be grateful for the feedback you get, whether it’s cheers or jeers. K?
I hope this helps, you guys! Love you lots! And I’ll be back with more writing lessons next issue!