Like Merry, I dreaded public criticism of my work. Even the idea of private trashing made me cringe. Why? I harbored a deep-seated fear that my dream would be crushed. That dream of becoming an author, nurtured since childhood, was still quite fragile. Also, the book’s secondary theme, domestic violence, contained scenes of abuse based on real incidents—mine and others.
Because the cost of an editor at that time was well beyond my means, I joined a writers’ group to get an evaluation of my manuscript from objective strangers who would likely be more open and honest than family or friends. However, I was emotionally connected to the story in ways that worked against my ability to handle harsh criticism and was too inexperienced to appreciate the difference between constructive critique and personal attack.
The lady who had formed the group was young and unpublished and had recently embarked on her adult life with a husband and babies; at that time, I was probably older than her mother. She was also very opinionated—or so I perceived—and quite vocal about those opinions. Long story short: her blunt comments and insistence that I had not written the story I really wanted to write blindsided me and almost ended my career along with my dream.
|kamuelaboy via morguefile|
Now, nearly two decades later, my take on her painful words comes from a different place. Did she share her review with others? I don’t know. Was I overly sensitive in my reaction to her criticism? Probably. The critique—3 or 4 pages long, single spaced, and very thorough—was extremely well written and definitely deserving of more consideration than I gave it at the time.
Was she a troll, out to shred my five-years-long effort to produce novel number one? Did she intend to end my writing career before it even started? Then I might have said yes, but now I know otherwise. Was the book published despite her exposure of its significant shortcomings? Yes. Self-pubbing allows that to happen. Did it get rave reviews to offset her critique? Family and friends posted some nice—although somewhat biased—comments. How do I feel about my story now? The basic story remains good, but it needs major work. I’ve pulled it out of circulation and plan to rewrite several parts of it this winter. Will I make my subplot the main theme as she suggested? No. However, I may write the sequel that was part of the original plan, and in it the secondary character she insisted should be my protagonist will finally fill that role.
Most critiques are not missiles aimed ruthlessly at the hearts of writers and should not be feared.
We are often emotionally tied to our works. The keynote speaker at a writing conference several years ago stated that our works are not our babies. He was a guy. We women are often more sensitive about our stories and our characters—our books are our babies.
Serious critiques deserve consideration. Will they always be right? Not necessarily, but that doesn’t make them wrong either. On the other hand, reviews on Amazon or similar sites should often be taken with that proverbial grain of salt—or ignored altogether.
The road to full-fledged author status from fledgling writer is a journey. Journeys have bumps and detours, but a good map and an unwavering belief in dreams can keep us on the road. While reaching our destination doesn’t guarantee huge success, it does offer the satisfaction of a job completed and the promise of another trip should we opt to take it. Hopefully, lessons taught by the chuckholes in the first journey will result in a smoother ride the next time.
Are you emotionally tied to your work? Are you devastated if anyone suggests your baby is less than perfect? Has negative criticism increased your determination to create a better work, or has it undermined your belief in yourself as a writer?
|Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.|